Who are those polite, well-scrubbed Jehovah's Witnesses who appear at our doors to hand out leaflets and offer to discuss the Bible? Diane Wilson, made vulnerable by a childhood of psychological abuse, succumbed to the group's charms and remained a member for 25 years. Wilson describes the indoctrination process, the hypocrisy, and the gradual suppression of individuality. Much of what she describes might be said of any cult, and members of mainstream religions may come to see the dangers of fanaticism in their own faiths.
Psychology Today, December 2002
Ms. Wilson provides plenty of examples of the ever-changing doctrines and contradicting teachings. I find the book to be well written and most importantly, the facts well-researched. It is apparent to me that Ms. Wilson put a lot of effort into creating this incredible recollection of her life as a Witness. Overall, a very informative and moving book.
Thank you for writing a book that even 36 years after my leaving the organization still helped me cope. Your book also brought added peace of mind to me as it further validated my decision to leave. My mother's recent death begged me to read your book to bring closure for me on the death of the mother I did not have for 36 years, as the Jehovah's Witnesses denied us a relationship. Your book made me cry so many times reading your story of struggle which so much reflected my own torment and struggle. I only wish I had the courage that you have to help those that need help to be freed of the oppression The Wachtower Society has so brutually inflicted on so many lives.
You did a brillant job on the book !
---Don Ward J.D. LL.M
The pubishers of this book are well-named, for they bring to us the Sacred Fire the Prometheus of Myth did. I've read every book written by former Jehovah's Witnesses, but this one is the most engrossing and well-written. It's also the most challenging to the world-view of all Biblical literalists.
---Nathaniel J. Merritt
Your book literally almost jumped off the shelf into my friend's hands! Little did we know that by the end of that day, our lives would be irrevocably changed. The very moment I turned the final pages of your book, I knew I had been freed! I cannot thank you enough for having the courage to write such an eloquent and articulate account of your experiences. I am so grateful for your empowering example.
Thank you for writing your book and making it available for us so that when we were ready, it was there.
---Heather Henry, Bookstore Owner
Eclectic Books, Murrieta, CA
I, too, share your tears and happiness to be free.
Your book will save many.
It was what saved me.
We were brought up not to talk about certain subjects, and religion has usually been on that list. In a time of history when fundamentalism and cults seem to increase daily, Diane Wilson's book is the record of a journey from childhood abuse to find a "family" in the local Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah's Witnesses to disenchantment with this cult and how she finally broke free.
Reflecting twenty-five years of being active in the Watchtower Society, Ms. Wilson has written a book that is crammed with factual content and a personable writing style that makes you want to continue reading. Her vulnerability and understanding of others who have experienced or are experiencing what she did are helpful. This is a book that can help all of us who relect on abusive churches, characteristics of cults, authoritarian mind control and manipulation, and toxic faith systems.
This book looks clearly at the psychological methods of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the inconsistencies within the Watchtower Society as well as its canonical statements that are just vague enough to be confusing if one desires clear-cut or consistent answers. Ms. Wilson looks at medical mandates that have caused untimely deaths, suffering, and ambivalence, including twenty-five medical "zig-zags". A startling list of doctrinal "flip-flops" and an outline of false prophecies give great insight into the inconsistencies that are to be taken on human authority.
This handsome book, which includes an epilogue, author-recommended reading list, appendices, glossary, bibliography, and index, is an important one to read so we each have the insight to help others reach a place of hope, joy, freedom, and life.
---Alice Ann Glenn, The Pen Woman 2007
Diane Wilson, former long-time member of the Watchtower organization, has written a veritable "spiritual thriller", describing her dramatic journey to psychological freedom. She explores with frankness and passion her unfortunate servitude to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, an organization which views itself as the sole possessor of all religious truth.
The fascinated reader will be swept along emotionally as Diane details her odyssey to freedom from what most former Jehovah’s Witnesses describe as a mind-control cult. Diane spells out her initial vulnerability to the unique claims of the Watchtower Society and her fierce struggle to disengage herself from such powerfully persuasive people; in short, she reveals the dark side of Watchtower worship.
As a former high-ranking member of the Watchtower Society, I can personally vouch for the veracity of her analysis of Watchtower methods and policies. In my twenty-two years as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I had attained the position of “Traveling Overseer” both in the United States and Brazil. I am a graduate of the Watchtower Bible School, “Gilead”, and have spent tens of thousands of hours attending meetings, studying their literature, going from door-to-door with the Watchtower message, and giving sermons in hundreds of Kingdom Halls (Witness churches). Diane’s description of life in the Watchtower Society is painfully accurate. If the reader has friends or neighbors or loved ones in that Organization, Diane’s moving autobiography will poignantly underscore the tragic position these individuals are in. The reader will put down Diane’s book (and I’m sure most will read it in a single sitting) with a greatly enlarged understanding of what life in the Watchtower cult is all about. And, perhaps more importantly, with deeper sympathy for those unfortunate people known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Former Watchtower missionary in Brazil
I was a bit hesitant about this book as it is not from a "Christian" publisher. But I found it did a great job of explaining the type of personality attracted to the control style of this church. She also does a great review of their beliefs and how they have been changed over the years as prophecies failed to come true. Although Christians helped her, she has not turned to an evangelical church after leaving the Jehovah's Witness. She does leave the door open to the possibility. A great expose worth reading.
His Place Reviews
The description of your inner turmoil was such a powerful rendition of what I have experienced as a Jehovah's Witness, and have had a difficult time sharing with others.Thank you for giving me the gift of indeed feeling understood. The courage you displayed in your approach to leaving the Watchtower Society is an absolute ray of light and hope for others who may struggle to do the same in the future. Thank you for taking this path of bravery and authenticity. I, for one, am deeply grateful.
--Reverend Rochelle M. Knight
Quite a few former members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have written about their time in this religious organization, with Diane Wilson’s being one of the most interesting.
For twenty-five years she was an active member of the Watchtower Society, only able to finally leave after a great deal of difficulty and heartache. Although Wilson certainly offers quite a lot in the way of critiques of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ theology and practices, that is not really the primary point of her book. Rather, those critiques form the backdrop of her own personal struggles as she gets involved with the organization, slowly grows disenchanted with it, and then tries to break free.
Many of her problems, often manifesting through physical ailments, develop due to her fruitless attempts to reconcile two things: first, her desire to maintain the only community of friends she has, and second, the fact that this community is emotionally, intellectually and psychologically destructive.
Wilson also supports her arguments with copious citations and extensive quotes from original sources. Even though she is not an unbiased person, if even a fraction of what she reports happened just as she says, the credibility of the Watchtower Society is sorely compromised. Moreover, if the attitudes she describes are at all common, then it is reasonable to believe that the Watchtower Society is not just another Protestant denomination. Her story reveals the manner in which an organization can exert undue influence over the thinking and lives of members. It’s not a product of supernatural powers, but rather the conscious manipulation of human psychology in known and predetermined ways. It is this, then, that makes such groups a danger.
Does the leadership of the Watchtower Society try to dictate not simply spiritual matters to members, but also minor details of how they should dress, decorate their homes, speak, and even think? Absolutely---Wilson has veritable horror stories about how church elders work to control the lives of members down to the smallest degree. She also has stories about the hypocrisy of church elders who, it seems, have little compunction at violating the rules which they demand others follow without hesitation.
Does the Watchtower Society deceive people? Certainly---prospective members are deliberately not told everything about the group’s doctrines because it is feared that such full disclosure might give them doubts. Current members are not told everything about what the leadership has taught in the past, lest that give them doubts about the leadership’s claim to authority. Finally, the “theocratic war doctrine” authorizes members to lie to outsiders, even in court, if the goal is the benefit of the organization.
Most people have had the experience of Jehovah’s Witnesses coming to the door and offering to share their religious beliefs, but just who are these Jehovah’s Witnesses, really? Are they simply another Protestant denomination of Christianity? Are they a dangerous cult? What is the truth about their organization and doctrines? One way to learn more about groups as insular as this is through reports and experiences of former members.
In the late 1960s, Diane Wilson joined the Watchtower Society, devoting her life to the Society's teachings. Despite frequent and rather pointed indications that the Society had some fundamental ideological problems, she remained a member for nearly three decades, until her own research convinced her the Society was, at best, seriously confused and, at worst, downright deceitful.
This is an extremely personal book; it recounts Wilson's own experiences with the Society. Awakening of a Jehovah's Witness isn't a these-people-are-evil book; it's a here's-what-I-discovered book. It's a story of a young woman searching for truth and spiritual fulfillment who discovered, well, mass confusion. In a particularly interesting couple of chapters, she details the similarities between the Society and the accepted definition of a cult, or an abusive church (control-oriented leadership; manipulation through fear or guilt; preoccupation with demons; the group's doctrines are the only Truth, even if new doctrine contradicts established Truth; and many, many other rather frightening things). She also lists several of the Society's failed prophecies -- including, of course, its prediction that Armageddon would begin in 1975 -- and charts some of the Society's doctrinal changes, as it reversed itself, and then reversed itself again, on several important ideological points.
Wilson paints a picture of the Society as an extremely confused, deeply hypocritical organization devoted mainly to the control of its members through indoctrination, intimidation, and, ultimately, the fear of everlasting disgrace. The book is one person's story -- it's probably worth pointing this out -- and it does not purport to be an objective analysis of the Watchtower Society. But, having said that, I must also say this: Wilson's central theme -- that the Society is a dangerously confused organization that strips away one's individuality and replaces it with a kind of hive mentality -- is well developed and entirely persuasive. Check the book out, and make up your own mind.
Bookloons Non-Fiction Reviews
Some people discover a talent late in life they were not aware of, like Grandma Moses the painter. Diane Wilson is a very gifted writer, but her former lifestyle would have suppressed any individuality and creativeness she had. Her gift for writing and communicating was only discovered after she left the Watchtower. Her true inner feelings and writing come across in her book "Awakening of a Jehovah's Witness: Escape From the Watchtower Society".
When I first became aware of her book I was excited, not because it was another book that showed why the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society was cultic, but because it dealt with the feelings and emotions of a person who was trapped in a domineering society. Too many books on Jehovah's Witnesses just rehash the same failed prophecies, show where the Society has changed its version of the Bible, and show how to answer Jehovah's Witnesses. Most are cold theological discourses which don't deal with the emotional / mental / spiritual state of the Watchtower victim. Diane Wilson's book, though, is different and a well needed breath of fresh air for those of us who have a calling to research and help people out of cults, especially counselors.
It is a book that is hard to put down. Like an adventure novel, it flows from one situation to the next and you feel you are almost there with her. You can live her journey with her through the Watchtower Society, see the twisted poison she is being fed, the lies she starts to believe, and you want to call out to her, "Don't listen to them!". You want to slap the ministerial servants and elders of the Kingdom Hall she attends when they feed her uninformed medical opinions and cause her untold anguish and pain. You're praying for her when she begins to question and doubt all she has been told. This isn't just a book, this is an experience revealed through the eyes and mind of a Watchtower slave.
Diane's story tells of how she nearly lost her baby due to Watchtower error, suffered medical mishaps due to the Society's misunderstanding, had her mother / daughter relationship taken away, then had to treat her daughter like she was dead when her daughter rebelled and left the Watchtower. Diane tells of the fake enticing love she was shown before she committed to become a Witness, and the cold hard treatment she received as soon as she was baptized.
She shows how she was coached to smile and shut up, even though everything in her was screaming to get out. She shows how the Watchtower not only enslaves your mind, but also controls your body and spirit. She skillfully weaves some of the Watchtower's thought-stopping techniques into her story, and we can recognize it when we minister to Witnesses. A good example is found on page 95: "If you have doubts about the organization, it is because Satan is causing the doubts; however, because Satan only attacks true Christians, your having doubts proves that the organization is the truth!"
Incredible logic! Her thoughts began to fold in on themselves and this is shown in many examples where she became nothing more than an automaton for the Watchtower. She explains also on pg. 95: "...I succeeded in burying my doubts and disagreements to the point of feeling I had none." And on page 103, "Constantly repressing my true feelings, submitting to the organization, and putting up mental roadblocks to avoid death-dealing independent thinking was a lot of hard work which resulted in my feeling stripped of my own personality and little more than an automaton."
Diane put up with this for 25 years, fear being the force that kept her there. She shows how Jehovah's Witnesses have no assurance of salvation, and strive constantly to work harder in case the vengeful god of the Watchtower should be displeased with them and destroy them at Armageddon (which is always just a short time away, so work hard!). She illustrates this on pg. 97 with the image they were given of a man rowing and struggling in a small boat about to be swept over a large waterfall and the terror on his face, and that unless he rowed harder he would be destroyed. These kinds of images litter Watchtower publications. Along with the picture given, we are told the elders used to ask the Witnesses, "How do you know if Jehovah has forgiven you?" to which they would reply, "You won't know until Armageddon--but we have to keep trying, or else we will be truly lost". What a contrast to the teaching of Jesus who said "Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest".
Later in the book Diane begins to give more insights into the Watchtower's zig-zagging doctrinal positions on many medical issues, much of which are neglected by other researchers, and are invaluable information for those in the medical profession (e.g., "May Witnesses accept Hemodillution in lieu of a blood transfusion?").
She pulls back the cloak of darkness the Watchtower doublespeak uses to confuse the media into thinking they had lifted bans, making things a matter of conscience. The 'matter of conscience' she shows us really means, "Do this and you will never ever see paradise, your family and friends will never talk to you again, you can't come into one of our Kingdom Halls again or associate with another Jehovah's Witness, and Jehovah God will destroy you". Certainly an easy choice to make, isn't it, especially when life hangs in the balance!
If there's one thing this book has given me---someone who's studied and taught about the Jehovah's Witnesses for over 11 years---it's an insight into the minds, the fears, the double thinking and emotional suppression Watchtower victims suffer. I believe this is a classic and should be on the shelf of every counselor and pastor that deals with Jehovah's Witnesses and ex- Jehovah's Witnesses. To those in different countries where I have taught classes about cults, I recommend this book, not only for it's insights into Watchtower life and mindset, but for insights into any mind controlling cult--it is a classic example.
Diane, this is a masterpiece, your heart shows through this and it says to every Jehovah's Witness, "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed".
To any Witness who reads this review, Diane doesn't hate you, she isn't spreading propaganda, she isn't an apostate walking in darkness under the control of Satan. She wrote this because she understands you and loves you, and knows how it feels to be trapped in circular reasoning, thought suppression, and fear to the point of having dangerous physical manifestations. She wrote this book out of the love of Christ that is truly in her and she wants to share with others.
Rev. Shaun Aisbitt, Ireland
The ways of the Watchtower are indeed stranger than fiction; the author does an excellent job in bringing these to light. Some of the Watchtower's doctrines and rules that the Jehovah's Witnesses must follow are so strange, that a person might wonder how they could possibly be true. But they ARE true. I know because I have experienced them myself. Although the Watchtower boasts that all JWs believe exactly the same things, I knew some elders in some congregations who were quite lax when it came to applying the stringent Watchtower rules. In reference to these, elders of my congregation would say, "We all know which congregations are not going to survive Armageddon." I knew a JW woman who was thrown out of the Jehovah's Witnesses because she ignored the elders' request that she stop wearing pantsuits to the JW meetings. I knew a young JW man who was exemplary, but was socially avoided by other JWs because his hair was touching the top of his ears, instead of being shaved around the ear. I knew a woman who was ousted from the Watchtower organization because she was too frightened to scream while she was being raped. I have known of elders kidnapping sick JW babies from hospitals, to avoid a court order to have the baby receive a necessary blood transfusion. They hid the baby, only for the baby to die. I believe every word the author says in this revealing book, because I have experienced so much of it myself. I laud her for exposing the dark side of the Watchtower that is stranger than fiction. This book could well save many lives, by warning people of the hidden negative aspects of the Watchtower beliefs before they succumb to the very persuasive tactics of the JWs. This book will keep you spellbound.
Amazon reviewer: Abigal
Having read Martin's outsider-looking-in approach, with its heavy emphasis on doctrinal disputes, and Franz's headquarters-insider take on the very human behavior inside "Gods' Organization," I found Diane Wilson's account fresh and compelling. She writes of her personal spiritual journey--one that was distorted first by her human parents' failings, then by the failings of the spiritual parent that adopted her--the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Much of the unkind, callous, spiritually hypocritical treatment she encountered could probably be found in most religious organizations. People, after all, can be unkind, callous and spiritual hypocritical--especially when they believe themselves to be counted amongst a religious elite. What makes Wilson's story compelling, is that she belonged to a group that claimed exclusive hold to THE TRUTH. Anyone outside of the Jehovah's Witness family will be annihilated at Armegeddon, according to this sect. The author could not just change churches, or even denominations. The only escape was to leave the organization, and face damnation and the shunning family and friends. The horror of this option is compounded by the reality that Witnesses tend to have no relationships outside of their religious community, as such are seen as "worldly" or even satanic.
Wilson tells a compelling tale of the dangers of having other gods (be they false deities, money, possessions, or religious institutions) before the Almighty God. Any sect that claims that it has the exclusive path to the Father, in fact has made itself an idol. Lord Acton's political statement that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely applies well here, and Wilson deserves kudos for sharing her obviously painful decades-long experience.
Rev. Tommy C. Ellis
This book, which reads like a novel, is one mother's story about life in the Jehovah's Witness religion. To fully understand a religious movement, individual life stories such as Diane Wilson's are critical. Having read many accounts similar to Ms. Wilson's, it is obvious to me that her story must be taken very seriously. Only one who has lived the life as an active baptized member of the Watchtower Society can fully understand what it is like to live as a Witness (or trapped because a spouse or family member is a Witness). All too often, leaving means loss of family and lifelong friends, as happened to Ms. Wilson. Her account will give the reader a feel for what it is like to be a Witness (and many Witnesses will often find themselves saying, "That is just how I felt!" or "That is what happened to me!")
Outsiders seem to have a difficult time accepting the reality of what it is like being involved in the Watchtower Society. Read this book, (and also check the many references) and find out why. Even a veteran Watchtower-watcher can learn much from this well- documented story.
A trend exists in some part of society, and even in academia, that implies one should not say unkind things about other religions. This rule may be fine in mixed company, but it will interfere in helping to understand this and any other movement. Also, few people wish to apply this rule to some groups, such as the Taliban, although certainly scholarly studies and individual life stories are both necessary to understand both the Taliban and the Watchtower. Both have more in common that it first appears. To find out why--this book is a must-read.
Jerry Bergman, Ph.D., MSBS, L.P.C.C.
(America's leading expert on the psychology of Jehovah's Witnesses)
Some books by ex-Jehovah's Witnesses strive for objectivity by putting some distance between the author and the material. Awakening of a Jehovah's Witness, though, is an intensely personal account. It focuses on the issues that concerned the author and does not attempt to be a comprehensive overview of the religion. Nonetheless, Ms. Wilson convincingly demonstrates through her narrative that the Watchtower Society cannot possibly be what it claims--that is, God's sole channel of communication to humanity.
She backs up this point in several ways. In one section of the book, she states that the Society doctrine has been inconsistent, zig-zagging between contradictory doctrines. She proves this by quoting directly from their own literature. She also highlights, by examples, the sentiments of many disillusioned ex-Witnesses. For example, almost all ex-Witnesses I've spoken to mention that they left, in part, because the Watchtower's rule-based philosophy of life encourages only conditional love.
I believe that this book can motivate Witnesses who have doubts to take the bold step of leaving the organization. Indeed, I loaned this book to a woman in that position and she quit the religion immediately after reading it. I do not think that she would have been moved by a dry deconstruction of Witness doctrine. Rather, she affirmed that she responded to the book's exposure of hypocrisy within the organization.
Since Witnesses are strongly discouraged from saying anything negative about the Watchtower Society, a member with doubts may feel he or she is misguided or even evil. This causes such people much suffering. I am pleased that Ms. Wilson has been brave enough to bare her soul so that others can see that they are not alone in their distress.
Webmaster of "Beyond Jehovah's Witnesses" (www.beyondjw.com)
I loved this book for many reasons; it has a good mixture of personal experiences, extensive documentation, and the author's sense of humor and personal strength amidst of all her pain made me just want to cheer for her.
As a clinical therapist, I could understand the sequence of events that led her down this self-destructive path and at the same time, appreciate her inner strength and core characteristics that never allowed her to fully succumb to the brain-washing techniques used by this organization. Reading the pages of her book and watching as her self-esteem developed, I could almost visualize the author blooming into this beautiful flower that not even she knew existed.
The book itself is very thought-provoking and I learned a great deal about cults and the manipulating techniques they employ, especially guilt, shame and blame. It also reminded me that I should be empathetic to the victim's of these cults and pray too that they will have an "AWAKENING".
Debbie Greer, MFT (Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist)
Diane's book is one of those "un-put-downable" reads, especially for someone like myself who is also enjoying a happy and healthy 'life after Watchtower'! I started to turn page corners down when I read a point that really hit home, until I realized that I was turning these corners on almost every page!! I have read many books written by former JWs, but this one was particularly well written and meaningful, containing the unique viewpoint of a woman trying to exist in this very male-dominated sect. Perhaps I'll buy a case and give them as Christmas gifts! :)
--Reviewer: Richard B Lapo Jr
A clear demonstration of the emotions that come into play when discussing religious experience. I liked the mix of factual topics like JW doctrinal changes with the personal conflicts that many probably experience, but are told how evil that is to think about and feel when seeing injustice or untruth.
The Watchtower put the organized into "organized religion", this shows how the higher goals of organizations (including other churches as well) supercede the individual need. Don't suspend your higher mental functions when accepting "truth".
This book is much better reading than the confrontational and expose style anti-JW, protestant Christian books. Thinking with mind and heart is much more productive, as is this book.
For those among the Watchtower camp, the material conforms well with many other sources that I've encountered over 30 years about Watchtower practice and teaching. It isn't out to get you, just to make you stop pretending not to notice commonplace occurrences among Jehovah's Witnesses. A good complement to the Ray Franz book "Crisis of Conscience".
Diane Wilson has provided her readership with a brave, heartfelt insight into the world of Jehovah's Witnesses, the tantalizing effect they have on potential proselytes, and what occurs once an individual is absorbed into "The Organization". Be prepared to experience an onslaught of emotion as you read this important work. She does not apologize for her involvement with this denomination, but rather provides a poignant testimony of the inworkings and machinations of the religion, as well as the devastation often experienced by those who either choose to leave or are expelled. This book should be a part of the library of anyone who has ever had even remote contact or involvement with Jehovah's Witnesses. A must-read!
South San Francisco, CA
A SERIOUS LOOK INTO THIS ORGANIZATION
For some years I have worked with individuals and their families who are in extreme groups. I have read many books about the Jehovah's Witnesses by ex-members and by theologians who have outlined the doctrinal differences, and they are all good. However, this book shows an indepth look at the control and struggles that Diane went through before finally leaving. I liked the way her therapist just simply asked her questions that were obvious contradictions that she was already seeing for herself. He never put her or the organization down.
I am in the process of copying down the many contradictions that were listed on how many times the governing body, through the Watchtower and the Awake! magazines, contradicted their doctrines, going back and forth. I want to put them in a notebook to have ready to point out when I have an opportunity to talk with members of this group.
Diane points out that the Jehovah's Witnesses attempt to cover up their contradictions by saying it is "new light" or progressive light--but it cannot be either because the doctrines go in reverse, not once, but several times. If one were to use this excellent resource, I believe it would cause a member of this organization to begin to question if this is the TRUTH. Diane, thank you for your courage in writing this book, which will help others to escape the control and fear.