I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Growing Up JW

Monday, January 07, 2013

As a school teacher, I am intimately familiar with one aspect of Jehovah's Witness theology-the prohibition against celebrating holidays.  Every year there was at least one child in my class who would have to sit out during our Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine's parties.  Occasionally they would also have to leave the room while birthday treats were passed out, and of course, alternate assignments had to be given for any holiday themed project.  Other than their apparent aversion to party food and paper hearts, I knew very little about their actual beliefs.  To be honest, I wasn't even sure if Jehovah's Witness fell under the umbrella of Christianity.  I gleaned a bit more over the years, and as a Unitarian Universalist I felt strongly that I should respect the right of everyone to follow whatever religious path they wanted, as long as it wasn't hurtful to anyone else.

Well, I can't speak to how most Jehovah's Witnesses practice their faith, and whether they find it oppressive or painful, but I know of at least one who did.  In I'm Perfect, You're Doomed, Kyria Abrahams shares stories from her childhood in a religious JW family (an abbreviation that I use because she did).  They are alternately hilarious and horrifying-like the meetings her mother would have with her teachers at the beginning of the year to discuss the many benefits having a Witness in class will bring, or the fact that according to the elders the Smurfs were actually little blue demons that could steal your soul for Satan.

The book opens when Kyria is in elementary school, and she tells the quirky, sometimes crazy stories about her family and their Kingdom Hall with self-deprecating wit and an ability to laugh at herself.  As she gets older in the memoir, however, her stories take on a dark tone that made me realize just how difficult it was for her to live up to the pressure of living up to the almost impossible standards of the only "true" Christians.  As her life spirals out of control, the true dangers of any fundamentalist upbringing becomes clear-Kyria has no idea how to deal with anything that contradicts her very rigid belief system , and no idea how to function in the real world.  By the end of the book, I'd gone from laughing out loud to gasping in horror.  And I can honestly say that the more I learned about Jehovah's Witness the more I became convinced that no matter how much my Unitarian Universalist heart wants to respect other people's faith traditions,  the inherent problems with the judgmental, rigid theology of the Jehovah's Witness seems more problematic than redemptive.

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