Reality is the most effective antidote to a religion whose tenets are designed to keep their members segregated from “the world.” In Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life, Amber Scorah chronicles her journey into the world and, subsequently, away from her religious community. By Scorah’s account, her Jehovah’s Witnesses church kept its members preoccupied studying, preaching and submitting records of their activities; discouraged them from going to college and cultivating friendships outside their congregation; and advised them to take subsistence jobs rather than pursuing careers that might refocus their interests. Why bother with careers, after all, when Armageddon is just around the corner?
Email turned out to be the serpent in Scorah’s Eden. After she and her husband moved to Shanghai in 2005 to preach their gospel (which was illegal there and had to be done furtively), she took a job podcasting about life in China. Listeners were encouraged to email her questions and comments. One who did so was Jonathan, a screenwriter in Los Angeles. It becomes clear that something emotionally seismic is brewing in the narrative when the reader notices that Scorah never states her husband’s first name or endows him with personality but quotes lavishly from her correspondence with Jonathan, who views her religion as a cult and tells her so.
Although she was so devoted to the Witnesses that she learned Mandarin in order to preach in China, she finds her faith slipping under Jonathan’s barrage of skepticism. Her exhilaration at finally making the break is tempered greatly, however, by the realization that it has cost her the comfort and friendship of everyone she’s been close to throughout her insulated life, including her entire family. With nothing to hold her elsewhere, she relocates to New York to embark on a new plane of existence. The last pages of her story are heartbreaking, but unlike many apostates who look back wistfully at the beliefs they’ve left behind, Scorah has no doubt that she has delivered herself from a kind of evil.