Breaking free from a religious cult

At our February meeting five former members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses spoke about life in that cult, and their experiences in breaking away. Many people know the church through their doorstep evangelism, and because of regular court cases stemming from their rejection of blood transfusion but few will know what life is like for those brought up in that faith.

We learned that Jehovah’s Witness children grow up in a culture without birthdays and Christmas, pressured to take part in door-knocking missionary work, and often isolated from their peers. They are taught to fear demonic influences in stories like the Harry Potter books, in yoga and meditation. Gender roles are strictly defined – women are forbidden to preach at meetings, but can cook and clean. Education, particularly at university level, is distrusted because young people who become educated often leave the church.

Members who no longer believe the cult’s message know that they can face further isolation if they publicly leave the cult. They know that if they are “disfellowshipped” by church elders their families will be pressured to shun them, so leaving is a frightening prospect. They have been taught to fear the world outside the cult, and the fear produced by the cult’s brainwashing is difficult to shake off. Many people experience mental health problems as a result.