By Scott Douglas Jacobsen (w/ Jeff McBrine)
‘Nathaniel Mccassey’ is a former member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Here he discusses some facets of life in and out of the community, the faith.
*Due credit to Jeff McBrine for the push and organizational skills here.*
*Interview conducted July 22, 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In terms of entering into the Jehovah’s Witnesses at a later period or birth into the Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, what are the early parts of the personal story in the Jehovah’s Witnesses for you?
Nathaniel Mccassey: I was born into the religion, my mother fell into depression when she was pregnant with me after my father left. The Witnesses targeted her vulnerability and made her feel welcome in her time of distress, so naturally as one does when you seek the support you join that support group. Being raised by a single mum was difficult not only for her, but for me, I didn’t have that father figure in my life.
I wasn’t the easiest child in the world. From the ages of about 6-13, I truly believed that what I was being taught about Jehovah was true. I was bullied in school because of it and not understanding why nobody believed me. I asked my mother for advice and the only answer she would give me is from their bible.
It was at that moment that I realized something wasn’t right and when I began to question it; I was overcome with fear of being destroyed at Armageddon for simply thinking, “Maybe there is something wrong with this religion.” That’s when I jumped headfirst further into the religion to essentially cleanse my thoughts of there being something wrong about the religion.
Jacobsen: Within community, hierarchs or leaders exist who have more authority than others. Members of the community respect them or fear them, or both, and can report grievances or concerns to them. Can you relate any experiences in which personal life was brought to the congregation or members, even hierarchs/leaders, within the Jehovah’s Witnesses in which you felt demeaned or as if personal privacy was violated?
Mccassey: The elders of the congregation have oversight of what goes on within that particular congregation, much like a committee they have one elder who is the head elder of that congregation and the others are essentially his advisers who get to weigh in on matters that are brought forward to them. Above them, you have the travelling overseers, who go from congregation to congregation who then report to the Governing Body.
There was actually an incident I caused in school that led to my suspension for three days, the biggest regret of my life actually, I was trying to fit in with other students by saying I had sexual intercourse with another student and filmed it when I actually didn’t. Not knowing that kind of behaviour is actually not only damaging to the victim but also sexual harassment, because we were never allowed to attend sexual education, I told people I had sex with her and filmed it.
Although this never actually took place the damage I did to her and the possible life long damage I caused went unpunished within the congregation. The school did more to punish me by getting the police involved, making me apologize to her and her family and suspending me for three days than what the elders would have done if it occurred in the congregation, the elders sat me down and quoted verses from the bible and basically slapped me on the wrist and sent me on my way, so anything brought to their attention is dealt by slapping the perpetrator on the wrist and sending them on their way. It’s disgusting how they handle serious situations.
Jacobsen: As a social species, social links matter deeply to us. What were some of the communal or social positives while in the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Those good things that came with the community of faith.
Mccassey: Making friends within the congregation with other children, when the assembly hall was renovated that was probably the most enjoyable as a child, I got to do physical work not just aimlessly walking every day witnessing to people who didn’t want to hear it. That was probably the only good thing that came out of it were the friends at the time.
Jacobsen: Many individuals have been expulsed, kicked out, from the Jehovah’s Witnesses for a variety of reasons. Others have been scared or pressured/coerced into staying in it. Were social ostracism and threat of expulsion real threats for others or yourself when questioned on matters of a highly private nature if refusing to respond to the questioning?
Mccassey: I didn’t experience any of this.
Jacobsen: In terms of individual and community behaviour towards you, what Jehovah’s Witnesses policies seem fair and humane within ordinary legal and sociocultural contexts? Please provide examples as you feel comfortable.
Mccassey: From memory, I don’t really think there were any, the only real thing I can think of is not beating people for sinning that’s about it, to be honest.
Jacobsen: In terms of individual and community behaviour towards you, what Jehovah’s Witnesses policies seem unfair and inhumane within ordinary legal and sociocultural contexts? Please provide examples as you feel comfortable.
Mccassey: I mean when I look it, announcing to the entire congregation someone is disfellowshipped isn’t law-breaking but it isn’t humane. That’s possibly one of the worst experiences someone could go through. I remember one woman who was disfellowshipped; from memory, I think she cheated on her husband.
I remember the announcement going out that she was disfellowshipped and the whole congregation just looked in her direction. Later at meetings, she would sit in this separate room behind a glass window. I recall going up to her because she looked so sad and depressed and asking her if everything was okay. She just said, “I’m fine. You shouldn’t be talking to me, though. I don’t want you to get into trouble.”
So, disfellowshipping someone isn’t against the law like most things they do, but it isn’t humane. Another policy with their handling on sexual abuse. That’s number one. It is the worst management I could possibly think of. You are making the victim confront the abuser and allowing them to go unpunished? I can’t imagine that happening to me. That would probably make me want to end my life if that ever happened to me.
So, I can’t imagine how some people have managed to cope with experiencing that. Some haven’t even seen any abuse cases reach the elders because of the disgusting and ridiculous two witness rule. I look at the two witness rule. I think they may as well just put a sign out front saying, “Pedophiles welcome.” It makes me so angry they willfully allow this to happen in their religion.
Jacobsen: If any examples, have you ever been coerced by the community or the leadership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to relinquish individual civil rights and human rights for the sake of the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Mccassey: Personally? No.
Jacobsen: Many people, as per the “social species” example before, can suffer from mental anguish or even mental illness (if prolonged stressors) as a result of coercion from the community, expulsion from the community, even banishment from family, friends, and community all-at-once. Sometimes, this can lead to the extremes of suicidal ideation, even suicide attempts (often as a cry for help). If I may ask, what were some mental health issues and unhealthy, towards the self, behaviours as a result of the process of leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses, i.e., as a result of the loss of community, threats of shunning, removal of friends and family, and other forms of coercive attempts at control?
Mccassey: Have you got a few hours to read this? Yes, being cast out was a pretty horrific experience for me. By 15, I said to my mother I’m not going to the meetings. Of course, she had to make some snide comment to my niece whenever she stayed over about me not going, I tried.
I really tried to believe the religion. At the point where I was confused about my sexuality and questioning what was going on in my head about me having an attraction to men, I tried so hard to banish those thoughts from my head and dive deep into the religion.
I approached one of the elders and said I wanted to become an unbaptized publisher, which requires you to go out and actively preach door to door, but his response was, “Jehovah will tell us when you’re ready to become an unbaptized publisher.” For those who don’t know the difference, as a baptized publisher, you need to fulfill a certain amount of hours in a week or month of witnessing.
An unbaptized publisher is basically the qualifying round before you get baptized. I think that was the moment when I realized that the religion… sorry… cult was a sham. I knew then that I needed out and I was going to lose everything I had. My plan was to get a job and wait until I was 18 to get my own house and then just make a break for it, but, unfortunately, my mother found out I was gay and kicked me to the curb.
After leaving, I still wanted to be friends with my old friends in the faith, but, of course, I was an outcast. I was an “apostate.” The feeling was cold. I ended up being homeless at one stage and contemplating suicide, but I could never return to the faith for being who I am. I don’t think the witnesses were causing my depression, but they played a part in it. Other factors were the main causes of it, but they definitely played a role in it. When you leave the cult, especially if your family are still witnesses, no words can describe the feeling of having this cloud over your head constantly thinking you’re going to be destroyed at Armageddon because “you left Jehovah.”
When I left, for years after, it was cemented in my brain; I was going to die because I left the organization. Any major breaking news that happened was like, “Shit what they said this is the end” When the 2008 crisis hit the world that was the height of my anxiety about Armageddon happening.
I can’t imagine how someone feels who recently left the organization and is experiencing the same emotion of fear I did, especially with the current pandemic that is gripping the world. After some time, that fear subsided, but there were occasions that it jumped me and was like, “YOU’RE GONNA DIE AT ARMAGEDDON!”
But I can now say those fears are gone for good. Science played a huge role in detoxing myself from what I was raised to believe and really helped erase that fear from my head. Science is my bible now because it tries to prove itself wrong; religion always tries to prove itself right. That’s the big difference in the two. Unfortunately, I still live with depression in part due to the organization, but I’m much better than I was.
I have medication that allows me to have a productive and positive outlook. No, it’s not ideal. I’d rather not have to take anti-depressants, but I’m better with them than without them. Detoxing takes a long time and it is an uphill battle, it is by no means an easy climb, but when you get to the top a weight just comes off your shoulders. You do feel happier. You have a purpose in life. That’s to live it like a normal everyday person not being dictated on what to think, what to say, what to do. It’s freedom.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the time and opportunity to tell your story here today.
Jeff McBrine: Thank you Scott for those questions. I’d like to add one too….
Do you feel Jehovah’s Witnesses that stop believing are forced to suffer a way of life that they find unacceptable or can’t find any true enjoyment in because they fear leaving the religion and then having all of their social structure taken away? Basically, do you feel any are trapped in the religion and are suffering psychological damage or violations of their personal freedom and rights? Do you know anyone that fits this description? Explain if you want.
Mccassey: Oh absolutely, without any doubt, there are people that are trapped. I’ve had some friends that I met in the religion who also left but later returned because the Witnesses stripped them of their social structure, when you’re cast out; that’s it. You’re finished in their eyes.
I remember being taught in the religion that Satan was a serpent in the garden of Eden. I didn’t realize it until later that the religion is actually the serpent. I’m reminded of the cobra-headed sceptre owned by Jafar in the Disney movie Aladdin how it hypnotizes the Sultan whenever Jafar wants his own way. The religion is that cobra-headed sceptre in my eyes and everyone in it is in a hypnotic state they can’t break.
So, when someone does break free the religion and everyone in it is turned against them not leaving the person much of a choice but to return, there’s no support structure. If you’ve never had a job, then you have no financial assistance with getting yourself on your feet and, in some cases, people do have employment, but it is run by the family. So, it is a constant cycle designed to keep you in; if you leave, that’s it. You’re on your own.
McBrine: Thanks everyone. We appreciate you taking the time to do this.