Back in 2007, I made an abortive attempt at a mini-series of navel-gazing blog posts regarding religion. I managed to log only one entry before becoming terminally distracted by a Metroid invasion. It’s something I’d long intended to revisit, but I’d been looking for something to spark my interest in the topic.
This past week, I’ve been reading I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah’s Witness Upbringing by Kyria Abrahams. Yes, I’m as amazed as you are; I’m reading a real book, not a TV tie-in or collection of ’60s comics. It may be far from my usual bathroom fare, but I was intrigued by the cover featuring a happy, little girl standing beneath an umbrella in an idyllic circle while the rest of civilization around her perishes in a rain of hellfire.
What’s it like to grow up knowing that the world will end within your lifetime, and that everyone who fails to share your one true faith is doomed, doomed, doomed? It turns out that you wind up boggled by normal social interactions and completely incurious about the world, because what’s the point of getting an education and making something of yourself if an earthly paradise is right around the corner? Granted that Kyria’s problems seem to spring as much from a panoply of mental disorders and a stunning self-centeredness as they do from her sheltered, cultish upbringing.
The book starts out hilarious, dealing with such earthly perils as Smurfs and demon-infested yard sale items, but becomes rather sad as Kyria grows up and flails about in a series of bad choices and loveless relationships. Judging by her blog, she seems to have turned herself around in the end, and I’m glad to know that.
My interest in the Jehovah’s Witnesses goes back to my own childhood. My Great Aunt Vera was one, and while I don’t recall her attempting to send me home with a stack of Watchtower magazines, I do remember that even back then I could tell that something about her world view didn’t quite add up. Great Aunt Vera gave me my first exposure to apocalyptic end-time prophecy over a casual dinner at a local eatery on the west side of Hobart. It didn’t make much sense to me: something about having sixes tattooed on my head and the evils of a one-world government. I’m not sure quite when this conversation occurred, but as someone who grew up under the shadow of the Vietnam War, having a single government sounded like a pretty good idea at the time.
What really got me about the Jehovah’s Witness faith, as explained by Great Aunt Vera, was that it only allowed for 144,000 of its own followers to ascend to Heaven. Okay, sure, the rest got to live in an earthly paradise. Still, it seemed like a bum deal. According to my own vague, generic notions of Christianity, Heaven was for everyone, including pets. But here was an orthodoxy that preached that even if you did everything right there was still a much-better-than-even chance you wouldn’t get to hobnob with the Big G. (Er…Big J.) I mean, even then I realized that 144,000 was a pretty small number, especially if it was drawn not only from current-as-of-Armageddon Witnesses, but those who’d died prior to The End. What, was Heaven running out of room? Couldn’t an omnipotent God whip up a few more clouds for his chosen people to sit upon?
Right then, I thought, “Wow, that religion blows.” And that was before I found out about the not-celebrating-birthdays thing.