Confronting Misinformation

By Richard E. Kelly

I am currently writing a sequel, The Ghosts from Mama’s Club. It’s an autobiography of my forty-seven years of life after leaving the Club. The “ghosts” in the book are dysfunctional behavior patterns, toxic residue acquired from the time my family and I spent as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The most haunting “ghost” for me and my wife, and most people, is the prodigious amounts of misinformation acquired wittingly and unwittingly while we were in the cult. Therefore, the biggest challenge to leading a full, happy life after departing will be confronting misinformation.

Shedding “things a person knows that ain’t so” can be very daunting. Some “ain’t so’s” manifest themselves as phobias. So before nagging untruths induce debilitating behavior, it’s important to clearly identify what they are. When a person is consciously aware of their “ain’t so’s,” they can easily quarantine them. Were I to leave the Club today, my recovery plan would include reading the following six books, in the following order, and why:

  1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. The author gives a moving account of his life in Nazi death camps and his discovery of logotherapy—a positive approach to the mentally/spiritually disturbed person. His treatment focuses on the freedom to transcend suffering and find a meaning to one’s life regardless of circumstances.
  2. The Source by James A. Michener. A great bit of storytelling based on factual data about early civilization in Israel, debunking JW myths.
  3. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Okay, he’s an atheist, but a person coming out of a group like JWs will appreciate and relate to his hard-hitting, factual observations about the imbecilities of religious fanatics and the dangerous rise of superstition in today’s world. (This is a good book to test your ability to hold two opposed ideas in your mind and still retain the ability to function.)
  4. Jesus, Interrupted – Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible by Bart D. Ehrman. Jehovah’s Witnesses are completely in the dark as to what scholars have been saying for 200 years about Bible history, forgeries, and contradictions. Whichever side a person sits on biblical inerrancy, this is an eye-opening read.
  5. The Sins of Scripture by John Shelby Spong. This book exposes the evil done by people who use the Bible like weapons in the name of God. It points out texts that have been used to discriminate, oppress and distort the truth of Christianity, casting doubt on God’s love.
  6. Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne. I hate the title, but after years of hearing non-scholarly JW evolution rebuttal, this well-written explanation by a knowledgeable scientist gives the reader a fresh, nonthreatening perspective of how old our earth is and how new species evolved from previous ones. And, it makes a good case for the fact that God is not a micromanager, as JWs claim.

If people who’ve left the Club will read these books, they will be amazed how refreshing and energizing basic science and honest history can be. Not only will they have confronted the “ghost of misinformation,” it will be like getting a good, Liberal-Arts-101 college education at a bargain price. For it to coalesce, they’ll need to get outside of themselves and cogitate about the new things they’ve learned. It will also help to take walks, meet new people, do random acts of kindness, volunteer for charitable work, enjoy a hobby and be a friend if they want to lead a full, meaningful life.

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Menlo Park Kingdom Hall – Updates

Since the previous article about the Menlo Park Kingdom Hall court case was published two weeks ago, I’ve received some updates and a few corrections.

Corrections

The city limits of East Palo Alto, CA: One writer pointed out that the city limits of East Palo Alto do extend a few blocks west of the Bayshore Freeway (US 101). In the article I wrote, “Its [Menlo Park’s] eastern edge, the Bayshore Freeway (US 101), separates it from the community of East Palo Alto.”

While I was making the point that the freeway separates the “cultures” and the “economic status” of the two cities, I should have made it clearer where the real city limits are. Those sections of East Palo Alto that do fall on the west side of the freeway are more akin to the cities of Menlo Park and Palo Alto. That does not change the fact that the freeway clearly acts as a wall between the two communities in more ways than simple geography. That’s why I added the line, “The Bayshore Freeway and Santa Clara County Airport act as effective barriers, separating a wealthier Palo Alto from its much poorer neighboring city.”

The Kingdom Halls of Redwood City: Redwood City lies directly north and west of Menlo Park. It now has two Kingdom Halls. One is in the northwest section of the city (631 Iris Street) that is the home to two congregations, “North Redwood City” and “South San Mateo.” Both have predominately white, English-speaking members.

Redwood City's Iris Street Kingdom Hall

The Circuit Overseer involved in this court case, Paul Koehler, lives in a home next to this Kingdom Hall. Donations from the congregations he serves probably cover most of his expenses while he lives in that home.

The second Kingdom Hall is known as “South Redwood City.” I wrote: “[South] is now the home for two or three Spanish-speaking congregations.” I’ve been told that it actually services four Spanish-speaking congregations. It’s at 681 2nd Avenue.

Threats to a former Menlo Park elder: I wrote: “Jon Cobb Sr., one of the plaintiffs, allegedly received threats against himself and his family. It’s been reported that he has moved his family several hundred miles away…” Actually, the elder receiving those reported threats was Jason Cobb, the son of Jon Cobb Sr. and the CEO of the existing Menlo Park corporation.

It was also reported to me that Jason Cobb has refused to give up original copies of the corporation papers. He has allegedly received threats via email and possibly other means that have implied that he and his family are at risk.

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Fear and Loathing in Menlo Park

Editor’s Note: Although I have been able to accumulate a great deal of information from various sources, and have managed to make contact with several individuals familiar with the details and status of this case, I want to make it absolutely clear that I have had no personal contact with the plaintiffs or their legal assistant, either directly or indirectly. That’s not to say I haven’t tried – I have – but they have refused to communicate with me in any way. They’ve made it clear, because of the fact that I was a Jehovah’s Witness at one time and left of my own free will, that they must consider me an “apostate” and avoid any contact with me. I do not take this personally and I understand why they must take that stand.

All other contacts have either been unbaptized persons who are familiar with the situation and those involved in it, or former members of the congregations involved who have also left the religion.

*      *       *

Menlo Park Kingdom Hall

Menlo Park is a small California city in San Mateo County, located between San Francisco on the north and San Jose on the south.  Its eastern edge, the Bayshore Freeway (US 101), separates it from the community of East Palo Alto.

It’s a nice little town of about 35,000 people with a population that is predominantly white (62%) and Hispanic (23%). For most of its existence, the city has been made up of middle and upper middle class families. The average income per family has been reported to be around $125,000 (USD), and the city enjoys a relatively low crime rate. Child movie star Shirley Temple Black, author Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and singers Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac) and Joan Baez have all lived in Menlo Park. Perhaps its most famous resident has been Sergey Brin, founder of Google.

On the other side of the Bayshore Freeway from Menlo Park, snugged up against the western edge of San Francisco Bay, lies the City of East Palo Alto. No two cities could be so close to each other (literally a few hundred meters), and yet be so completely different.

. . .When it was announced that the Menlo Park Elders were being removed (all of them) there were audible gasps in the audience. Of course, the assumption is that they did something wrong, and it’s very hard to get the story out. One of the sisters is elderly and in a wheel chair. The announcement nearly gave her a heart attack and she is now in bad health. – Anonymous caller

East Palo Alto IS NOT part of Palo Alto, the home of world renowned Stanford University. Actually East Palo Alto is not “east” of Palo Alto, it is “north” of Palo Alto. It is “east” of Menlo Park. The Bayshore Freeway and Santa Clara County Airport act as effective barriers, separating a wealthier Palo Alto from its much poorer neighboring city. Palo Alto is also part of Santa Clara County, while East Palo Alto is part of San Mateo County along with Menlo Park.

Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, and US 101 (click on photo for full-sized version) - Google Maps

Unlike Menlo Park or Palo Alto, East Palo Alto has for much of its existence found itself at the lower end of the economic scale. Prior to World War 2, much of the land was made up of family farms owned by Japanese-Americans.  During the war, most Japanese families were sent to internment camps and lost everything, including their homes and land. After the war, the city was populated by African-Americans, brought to the area during the war to work in the ship building and defense industries. By the 1960s, the city was so predominately African-American, that there was actually a movement that urged its name be changed to “Nairobi.”

Due to its high minority population and extremely low economic base, crime became a major problem for the community.  In 1992, it had the highest homicide rate in the USA on a per capita basis. It has been so economically disadvantaged that for several years there wasn’t a single major supermarket within the city limits.

. . .The elders don’t feel comfortable going [to the Kingdom Hall] as a lot of the people named in the law suit as defendants attend the meetings. This whole thing has alienated the [previous] elders from their life long religion. – Anonymous non-JW contact

Like its neighbor to the west, East Palo Alto has a population of about 35,000. African-Americans have in recent years become a minority again at about 20%. The vast majority are Hispanics, but there is also a small but significant population of Pacific Islanders, including Samoans and Fijians. Whites make up less than 4% of the city’s population. The city has not prospered as its neighbors to the west and south have, and the recent economic downturn has only complicated its existence.

The Menlo Park Kingdom Hall

For nearly fifty years, a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses has existed at 811 Bay Drive, Menlo Park. The Kingdom Hall building is just a few dozen meters from a busy southbound off-ramp of the Bayshore Freeway, separated from the highway by chain-link fencing and a stand of trees. East Palo Alto is directly across the highway.

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