Originally published on NPO Radio 1 on March 3, 2021
They don’t vote, don’t celebrate birthdays, refuse blood transfusions, but are best known for their ‘field service’; the foot in the door. The Netherlands has about 30,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sander Huls was one of them, but left the religious group about 7 years ago. Sander shares his experiences on Twitter.
“You are isolated from your surroundings and under constant pressure,” he writes. “But there is one thing even more difficult: to stop being Jehovah’s Witness. In Blok & Toine , Sander tells how difficult it was.
“I was very much in two worlds. My parents were divorced, my father was a Jehovah’s Witness and my mother was not. I was in the middle of that. I didn’t belong to either of them at all, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses expected a lot of me. They put a lot of pressure on going door to door, to be present at all the meetings and to prepare well. I didn’t always do that and it feels like I was never good enough, like I will die when the world ends.”
Although his mother tried her best not to turn Sander against his father or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, he began to rebel against her a little: “She once made an annoying comment because I was praying over lunch. I would exaggerate doing that with every meal or snack. I immediately thought: I am being attacked for my faith, this is what they always warn against,” he says.
We / them dynamics
Although Jehovah’s Witnesses should not have contact with non-Jehovah’s Witnesses, Sander continued to see his mother. “It made a difference that I was not baptized. If you had been baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness, then you are really expected to stay away from non-Jehovah’s Witnesses or ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Dynamic: Jehovah’s Witnesses against the world and the world against us. That’s how it really felt.
“That is reinforced by going door to door. You are very quickly rejected. You probably recognize that when you have a Jehovah’s Witness at the door, you close the door as soon as possible. Then you come back to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the congregation where you will be warmly welcomed again. Then you feel at home there and not with the rest of the world.”
Doubts hit Sander when he was 17 or 18. He was doing quite well in high school, was able to go to university with his grades, but as Jehovah’s Witness you should not do that: “Higher education is seen as a way to seduce you into the ordinary world.”
Despite his father struggling, Sander went to university anyway. “There I met people who did not live up to the image that Jehovah’s Witnesses try to give you of ‘normal people.’ I thought that non-Jehovah’s Witnesses would try to tempt me into taking drugs and going to wild parties. That was not so bad and then I thought: what is wrong here and then I realized: maybe there is nothing wrong.”
His upbringing will always remain somewhat with Sander. His 21st birthday felt like a new beginning: “That was my first party and we celebrated it as my first birthday, with gifts to make up for the past 21 years. But it’s not that I suddenly want my birthday every year now. Celebrating, I didn’t grow up with it anyway. I still don’t like holidays like Christmas or Santa Claus. I don’t feel the need to put up a Christmas tree, but otherwise I have moved quite a long way from it.”