Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was like with the Jehovah’s Witnesses in early life?
Tim Klapproth: being a third generation witness I knew nothing else so it’s hard to express. The school was tough. I was bullied throughout and was fearful of ‘worldly’ kids. Christmas and birthdays were awful and I was always promised that we would have present days to ‘make up for it’ but this only happened twice. I felt that I was missing out on something that had zero scriptural foundation. The pressure from the family to study, preach and grow spiritually was intense and this led me to lead a double life as I became a teenager. I was insular, intense, and secretive. I married the first girl who smiled at me and was divorced by 30 with three children.
Jacobsen: What seems like some of the pivotal moments in that early development regarding the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Klapproth: The decision to be baptized when I was 15. I did not have any comprehension of what a dedication is and that it means losing my whole social circle if I ‘lose faith’. My ability to make decisions that were measured and backed by reason was not formed until my thirties.
I also was shaken by the way my congregation friends were treated by their own parents when we were often found breaking the rules. My father as a city overseer and a great and sought-after speaker was very strict with me.
Whereas all my friends’ fathers just shrugged and said boys will be boys. This strict attitude extended as far as requiring me to read the lyrics and almost present my case, should I want to buy an album or CD. My dad rejected most of my choices.
I was also expected to leave school and pioneer. I ‘went along’ with all these things. The power over me was incredible in that it was so controlling yet I was not aware of it. A silent pressure, steering me towards a goal that I’d not wished for myself.
Jacobsen: What were the main parts of the JW faith that made you think, “I cannot believe this. It is illogical, without evidence, and beyond doubt false as a faith”?
Klapproth: The creation account. However, until my late twenties, I was proud of my counter argument against evolution. I’d done my research (within the constraints of Watchtower publications of course) and felt very confident on this topic.
When I later heard Prof Richard Dawkins rail against the mid-quote of the Watchtower and subsequently the ACTUAL explanation of the theory (and what the word theory meant…) a light was flicked on in my brain and in many ways, I had all I needed to leave the cult.
It was based on lies, spread by many well-meaning people and lead mainly by power hungry small minded weak men.
Jacobsen: What are common signs that one has psychologically and emotionally left the faith?
Klapproth: It’s a huge step. You risk losing everyone you’ve known. To take that step is not done lightly however in my case, once I had cut ties; I felt freer than I can express.
In my case, I studied Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, and Harris which reaffirmed that God is a man-made concept and that religion is man’s way of exerting power over the flock. The psychological effect on me was palpable.
Although I did go off the rails a little, trying all the things I’d missed earlier in life, I was happier than I’d ever been. However, when I turned forty things started to change. I became fixated on my past and with disproving to my parents that their faith was based on nonsense.
This was only curbed when I had to counsel in 2017. Since that time though my father has died and I feel that I didn’t finish our conversation.
Jacobsen: What are some peculiar experiences of those once deeply within the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have left them – stories only ex-JWs know?
Klapproth: I’m probably not the only person to share the ridiculous process of ‘only men can lead’. I was leading all of the daily meetings for field service at fifteen, ahead of a whole team of experienced women who had been handling the meetings alone for years.
I had no clue how to lead, how to work the map effectively or how to pray and inspire. I also am surprised to see that friends of mine I grew up with and lead a double life like me are still in the religion.
In many cases they acted and behaved far worse than I. We drank, swore, tried to pick up girls (never successful in my case) and sneaked into nightclubs and concerts that we’d never be allowed to attend.
Threw wild parties, misbehaved and ridiculed the society and elders. Then I hear that they’re now an elder. They didn’t have and unless they have had a road to Damascus experience, still don’t have a spiritual bone in their body!
Finally, the silly process of ‘counting time’. I spent almost two years (of my 12 years) pioneering without knocking on a single door. I worked along with my best friend and we just mimed the door knock.
A total and utter waste of our time. I habitually lie about the time is spent in the ministry. Missing my time target by a country mile each year. One of the triggers that prompted me to ask what I was doing with my life was this very fact.
I was in my late twenties, married to a violent woman who made me miserable (she was a victim of child abuse that was covered up by her parents and ‘left to Jehovah…’ this leads her to be extremely violent and a man hater) I was poor due to part-time work and wasting my life.
Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?
Klapproth: I left the JW’s without being shunned by my family. The circuit overseer I met with said that he could see I did not identify or claim to be a JW and that my only spiritual influence was that of my family.
Retaining my relationship with them might mean that I would be tempted back and so he let me fade. That said, I did lose all my friends and I’m excluded from family weddings etc., but I have retained a relationship of sorts since 2000.
I’m struggling with my conscience now though. I want to challenge my family about the two witness rule regarding child abuse. Not that I want them to leave as such but they live their family.
They are at the heart of the congregation and would be horrified to think what is actually happening. I’d like them to be able to hear the actual truth and then challenge the organization from within.
JW’s are mostly not bad people. They simply follow the lead set and do not think critically.
Jacobsen: Also, your email signature is the following:
“To do is to be” – Nietzsche
“To be is to do” – Kant
“Do be do be do” – Sinatra
Klapproth: It’s just a funny quote. It’s not good to take things too seriously…
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Tim.