‘Book Talk’ with CUNY BA Student Amber Scorah | CUNY TV Special

‘Book Talk’ with CUNY BA Student Amber Scorah | CUNY TV Special


>>GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO THE GRADUATE CENTER. I AM JIM MUYSKENS. I AM THE INTERIM PRESIDENT HERE AT THE GRAD CENTER. I ESPECIALLY WANT TO WELCOME AMBER SCORAH, WHO HAS WRITTEN, AS YOU WELL KNOW, A POWERFUL AND BRAVE BOOK “LEAVING THE WITNESS.” THANK YOU, AMBER, FOR BEING HERE TONIGHT, FOR SHARING YOUR STORY. YOUR PERSEVERANCE AGAINST THE ODDS IS TRULY INSPIRATIONAL. THANK YOU. WE LOOK FORWARD TO HEARING FROM YOU. WE ARE DELIGHTED TO WELCOME GUESTS FROM ACROSS CUNY, INCLUDING HUNTER COLLEGE. THE REPRESENTATIVE RIGHT HERE, JARED, GOOD TO HAVE YOU WITH US. AND WHERE AMBER WAS A STUDENT. SHE IS A B.A. STUDENT, BUT HER HOME CAMPUS WAS HUNTER. AS MANY OF YOU KNOW, THE GRADUATE CENTER IS PRIMARILY A GRADUATE DEGREE INSTITUTION. WE HAVE MORE THAN 40 MASTERS AND PHD PROGRAMS HERE. WE ARE ALSO PROUD THAT WE ARE THE HOME OF THE CUNY BACCALAUREATE FOR UNIQUE AND INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES. I DO NOT KNOW IT WAS THAT LONG A TITLE. THAT IS THE CUNY B.A. IT IS A UNIVERSITY WIDE UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE WHICH WE ARE GLAD TO HAVE HOUSED HERE. IT IS AS UNIQUE AND DYNAMIC AS CUNY ITSELF. I KNOW WE HAVE A NUMBER OF CURRENT CUNY B.A.STUDENTS IN ATTENDANCE. RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU’RE CURRENTLY A STUDENT. GREAT TO HAVE YOU HERE. WE ALSO HAVE CUNY B.A. ALUMS, INCLUDING OUR MODERATOR THIS EVENING, MOHAMAD BAZZI, AN ESTEEMED JOURNALIST AND PROFESSOR AT NYU. IT IS AN HONOR TO HAVE YOU WITH US THIS EVENING. THANKS FOR BEING HERE. WELCOME, EVERYBODY. IT IS MY PLEASURE TO INTRODUCE THE ACADEMIC DIRECTOR OF THE CUNY B.A., DR. KIM HARTSWICK. KIM HAS BEEN THE DIRECTOR HERE OF THIS PROGRAM SINCE 2006. HE IS A FORMER PROFESSOR OF CLASSICAL ARCHAEOLOGY AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY. HE IS A CUNY GRADUATE, HAVING EARNED AN M.S. IN HIGHER EDUCATION ADMINISTRATION FROM BARUCH COLLEGE. IT IS MY PLEASURE TO WELCOME DR. KIM HARTSWICK. GIVE HIM A WARM WELCOME. [AUDIENCE APPLAUSE]>>THANK YOU, AND THANK ALL OF YOU FOR COMING THIS EVENING TO CUNY BA’S FIRST PUBLIC EVENT OF THE NEW ACADEMIC YEAR. WE HOPE YOU WILL BE ABLE TO ATTEND OTHER CUNY BA PRESENTATIONS THAT ARE BEING PLANNED, PARTICULARLY ONE IN THE SPRING SEMESTER IN COLLABORATION WITH THE BARD PRISON INITIATIVE IN A NEW PBS DOCUMENTARY CALLED COLLEGE BEHIND BARS, WHICH IS PRODUCED BY KEN BURNS. AS PRESIDENT MUYSKENS MENTIONED CUNY BA IS AN ACADEMIC DEGREE GRANTING PROGRAM IN WHICH STUDENTS COLLABORATE WITH FACULTY MENTORS IN DEVELOPING INDIVIDUALIZED CONCENTRATIONS BY COMPLETING COURSEWORK AT VARIOUS COLLEGES AND IN DIFFERENT DEPARTMENTS WITHIN THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK. IT IS NOT SURPRISING, THEREFORE, THAT CUNY BA STUDENTS ARE NOT ONLY ACADEMICALLY IMPRESSIVE INDIVIDUALS BUT ALSO ARE SELF-MOTIVATED AND NONCONFORMISTS. EXAMPLES ARE TONIGHT’S TWO GUESTS. MOHAMAD BAZZI, A LEBANESE AMERICAN AWARD WINNING JOURNALIST, CAME TO THE UNITED STATES AT THE AGE OF 10, BECOMING AN AMERICAN CITIZEN IN 1994, AND THREE YEARS LATER GRADUATING FROM CUNY BA AND FROM HUNTER COLLEGE. WHEN HE TELEPHONED ME LESS THAN A YEAR AGO THAT HE HAD SOMEONE WHOM HE THOUGHT WOULD THRIVE WITHIN THE CUNY BA ENVIRONMENT, WE IMMEDIATELY JUMPED ON HIS SUGGESTION. LIKE MOHAMAD, AMBER SCORAH IS A WRITER, AN IMMIGRANT FROM CANADA. [LAUGHTER]>>DOES THAT COUNT?>>I KNOW I’M PUSHING THAT BUT SHE IS AN IMMIGRANT. A NEW AMERICAN CITIZEN, A CUNY BA STUDENT, WHOSE HOME COLLEGE IS HUNTER, AND I CAN CONFIDENTLY ANTICIPATE BECAUSE OF HER PRESENT 3.96 GRADE POINT AVERAGE SHE WILL ALSO GRADUATE MAGNA CUM LAUDE. THEY HAVE A LOT IN COMMON. WE ARE PROUD AND HONORED TO WELCOME AMBER AND MOHAMAD AS TWO TRULY IMPRESSIVE EXAMPLES OF THE MORE THAN 8000 CUNY BA STUDENTS WHO HAVE EARNED INDIVIDUALIZED DEGREES IN THE GREATEST URBAN UNIVERSITY IN THE WORLD. SIT BACK AND ENJOY THE EVENING.>>I WANT TO START WITH THE CONCLUSION OF THE NEW YORK TIMES SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW OF AMBER’S BOOK BY C.E. MORGAN. SHE TEACHES US HOW INTEGRITY IS DETERMINED NOT BY THE JUVENILE CLAIMS OF FUNDAMENTALISM BUT BY ENDURING UNIVERSE AS WE FIND IT. BREATHTAKING IN ITS ECSTASIES AND VICIOUS IN ITS LOSSES. WITHOUT RECOURSE TO A GOD. GIVEN THE ENORMITY OF HER GRIEF AND THE WHOLESALE COLLAPSE OF HER PREVIOUS BELIEF SYSTEM, THE INTELLECTUAL INTEGRITY THAT SCORAH DISPLAYS IS NOTHING SHORT OF A MIRACLE. LET THAT PRAISE SINK IN FOR A MINUTE. I’M GOING TO ASK AMBER — HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO WRITE THIS, KNOWING YOU WOULD HAVE TO EXPOSE SUCH DEEP PARTS OF YOURSELF AS A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS? YOU HAD BEEN TOLD TO KEEP THAT SEQUESTERED AWAY.>>IT WAS HARD. EVEN THOUGH I HAD LEFT THE RELIGION FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS BEFORE I STARTED WRITING THIS THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT, EVEN WHEN YOU DEPROGRAM RELIGIOUSLY FROM A COMMUNITY THERE IS STILL A BIT OF SOCIAL INDOCTRINATION. WHEN YOU ARE A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS, YOU ARE TAUGHT THE GREATEST SIN YOU CAN COMMIT IS NOT, SAY, LIKE MURDER, OR CHILD — THESE KINDS OF SINS. THE WORST SIN ON THE HIERARCHY OF SINS IS APOSTASY. APOSTASY WOULD BE NOT ONLY LEAVING YOUR BELIEF SYSTEM AND LOSING YOUR FAITH BUT ALSO BECOMING PUBLIC WITH THAT. THAT WAS KIND OF A MENTAL HURDLE THAT EVEN THOUGH I DID NOT BELIEVE IT WAS TRUE ANYMORE, I WAS NOT AFRAID OF DYING AT ARMAGEDDON FOR WRITING THIS BOOK WHICH I WOULD HAVE BEEN A FEW YEARS BEFORE, I STILL FELT THIS SENSE OF — FULLY OWNING THE IDENTITY OF BEING AN APOSTATE WAS KIND OF SCARY. APOSTATES IN OUR RELIGION WERE PAINTED AS PEOPLE WHO WERE MENTALLY DISEASED AND EVIL AND THIS TYPE OF THING. SO WHILE MY COMMUNITY WHEN I LEFT IT, AS THESE COMMUNITIES DO, THEY ALL SHUNNED ME. THERE WAS STILL THE SENSE OF FEELING A TIE, AN EMOTIONAL TIES TO THE PAST OR PEOPLE I KNEW WOULD FEEL BETRAYED BY THE FACT THAT I SPOKE OUT. IT WAS SOMETHING I HAD TO OVERCOME. I THINK THE GOOD THING ABOUT WRITING A BOOK IS THAT IT HAPPENS SO SLOWLY. IT TAKES A LONG TIME. YOU DO NOT START OUT THINKING ABOUT THE END. I DID NOT START OUT THINKING ABOUT THE NEW YORK TIMES WOULD EVER REVIEW IT. NEVER DID I IMAGINE THAT WOULD HAPPEN. IT IS A SLOW PROGRESS AS YOU WORK THROUGH THE BOOK, YOU’RE ALSO WORKING THROUGH YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THE BOOK. I THINK YOU WRITE IT — FOR ME IN MY BEDROOM. YOU’RE DETACHED FROM WHERE IT IS GOING TO END UP, THE READERSHIP. YOU KIND OF NEED TO DO THAT AS A MEMOIRIST. I DID START WITH IT. IN THE SAME REVIEW, THEY TALKED ABOUT THE FACT THAT THERE WERE THINGS I COULD HAVE REVEALED THAT WERE MAYBE MORE DIFFICULT OR EMBARRASSING FOR PEOPLE. I STRUGGLED WITH NOT WANTING TO HURT PEOPLE GRATUITOUSLY WHILE WANTING TO STILL BE HONEST AND TELL THE STORY. ULTIMATELY, WHEN I LEFT MY BELIEF SYSTEM, SO MUCH OF WHAT I HAD LIVED BEFORE FELT LIKE IT HAD BEEN A MYTH, OR EVEN A LIE. THAT THERE WAS THIS SENSE WHERE, IT FELT IMPORTANT TO ME TO BE HONEST AND HONEST WITH MYSELF AND HONEST ABOUT WHAT THIS KIND OF RELIGION DOES AND HOW IT AFFECTS PEOPLE. AND JUST GET THAT OUT INTO THE WORLD.>>EVERY DAY IN YOUR ROOM, WRITING THIS, YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT REVEALING THIS GRANDER TRUTH, BUT YOU WERE THINKING ABOUT WAYS YOU WOULD PROTECT INDIVIDUALS.>>KIND OF. I WAS TRYING TO ESSENTIALLY BE HARDER ON MYSELF THAN ON OTHER PEOPLE. I THINK WHEN YOU WRITE A MEMOIR, A LOT OF IT IS PROCESSING THESE THINGS AND MAKING SENSE OF THEM THROUGH YOUR OWN EYES. I WANTED TO BE FAIR TO OTHER PEOPLE. IT IS A HARD BALANCE TO FIND. I JUST TRIED TO TAKE THE RESPONSIBILITY WHERE I COULD.>>WERE THERE ARE MOMENTS WHEN YOU THOUGHT AIT WOULD DRAW YOU BACK INTO THIS WORLD YOU HAD LEFT SO STRONGLY AND YOU HAD STRUGGLED SO MUCH TO LEAVE THAT WORLD?>>NOT REALLY. BECAUSE ONCE YOU SHED A BELIEF SYSTEM THAT IS SO INTENSE AND ALL-ENCOMPASSING, THERE IS NO GOING BACK, EVEN IF YOU MISS CERTAIN THINGS ABOUT IT. THERE IS A REAL BREAK IN YOUR LIFE. THERE IS THIS BREACH. IF ANYTHING, WHAT THE BOOK DID FOR ME WAS IT TOOK MY PAST — THIS BREAK IN YOUR LIFE, IN THE TIMELINE OF YOUR LIFE, TO HAVE SOMETHING SO SEVERE HAPPEN WHERE ALL THE PEOPLE FROM THE BEGINNING OF YOUR LIFE HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE NOW, THERE IS NO OVERLAP. THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT THAT THAT IS DISJOINTED. WRITING THE BOOK WAS HELPFUL FOR THAT. IT STITCHED TOGETHER THE PAST BACK INTO THE FUTURE AND HELPED ME MAKE SENSE OF WHAT HAD COME BEFORE AND REALIZE THERE WAS A SENSE WHERE YOU LEAVE THAT BEHIND AND IT FEELS LIKE NONE OF THAT MATTERS. I WAS IN A WORLD I BELIEVED WAS GOING TO END SO I LIVED MY LIFE IN THAT FRAMEWORK AND WORKING TOWARD THINGS THAT WOULD MATTER IN THAT WORLD. BEING IN THIS NEW WORLD, ALL OF THAT DID NOT MATTER. IT FELT VERY DISJOINTED. IN A WAY, THE BOOK HELPED TO SORT OF HARMONIZE THAT FEELING.>>YOU ARE TAUGHT AT EVERY TURN NOT TO ASK QUESTIONS IN THE RELIGION. ONCE HE MOVED TO CHINA, TELL US HOW YOU ENDED UP DOING THAT. YOU MOVED TO CHINA FOR THE CHURCH WITH YOUR HUSBAND. THAT MOVE WAS PIVOTAL TO GIVING YOU THIS SPACE TO ASK QUESTIONS. HOW DID YOU FIND THAT SPACE WHEN YOU LIVED IN CHINA AND HOW DID YOU MAKE USE OF IT?>>AS A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS IN THE UNITED STATES OR ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, YOUR LIFE IS VERY STRUCTURED. IT IS VERY ROUTINE. WEEK IN AND WEEK OUT, EACH WEEK RESEMBLES THE LAST. THERE IS A LOT OF STUDY. THERE ARE THREE MEETINGS A WEEK. YOU GO OUT PREACHING. WHEN YOU DO HAVE FREE TIME, THE PEOPLE YOU ASSOCIATE WITH ARE OTHER JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES. YOUR LIFE REVOLVES AROUND THE ORGANIZATION. YOU ARE VERY BUSY. MOVING TO CHINA, MY MOTIVE WAS TO BE A MISSIONARY. IT WAS NOT LIKE I WAS MOVING THERE TO TRAVEL OR SOMETHING. BECAUSE THE WORK IS DONE UNDERGROUND THERE BECAUSE YOU CANNOT OPERATE FREELY AND PREACH IN CHINA, THERE WAS NO WAY TO FACILITATE THE KINDS OF ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURES THAT OUR RELIGION HAD HERE. WHAT THAT MEANT WAS THERE WAS ONE MEETING A WEEK IN A SECRET LOCATION. OTHER THAN THAT, YOU ARE BASICALLY ON YOUR OWN. IN SHANGHAI WHERE I LIVED WAS A CITY OF 20 MILLION PEOPLE OR SO. THERE WAS A HANDFUL OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES THERE. WE SPENT A LOT OF TIME FIGURING OUT HOW WE WOULD DO PREACHING. THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT THAT BREAK IN SPACE THAT OPENS UP FOR SOMEONE WHEN YOU ARE USED TO THIS REGIMENTED LIFE, FROM BIRTH. THAT WAS THE FIRST THING THAT CREAKED THE DOOR OPEN. I THINK ANOTHER BIG THING WAS I LEARNED MANDARIN TO GO THERE AND PREACH AND I HAD LEARNED THREE YEARS OF MANDARIN IN TAIWAN BWFORE GETTING TO SHANGHAI. SO THAT BY THE TIME I GOT TO SHANGHAI I WAS ABLE TO CONVERSE AND CONDUCT BIBLE STUDIES AND TALK TO PEOPLE. LEARNING MANDARIN IS A LANGUAGE WHICH YOU ARE AN ENGLISH SPEAKER IT ALMOST REQUIRES YOU TO EXCAVATE YOUR MIND. IT IS NOT THE KIND OF LANGUAGE LIKE WITH SPANISH WHERE YOU CAN KIND OF TRANSLATE DIRECTLY. YOU HAVE TO SPEAK IN AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT WAY. YOU HAVE TO THINK IN A DIFFERENT WAY IN ORDER TO COMMUNICATE. EVEN WHEN I LEARNED ALL THE VOCABULARY AND PUT IT TOGETHER, PEOPLE WOULD STILL LOOK AT ME AND BE LIKE WHAT ARE YOU SAYING BECAUSE THE THINKING IS DIFFERENT. THERE WAS SOMETHING ABOUT EMBODYING THAT LANGUAGE. IT WAS SO DIFFERENT THAT WHEN I WAS NOW USING THIS LANGUAGE TO TEACH PEOPLE THESE THINGS I FELT WERE THE TRUTH, I STARTED TO HEAR HOW THEY SOUNDED FOR THE FIRST TIME. THAT WAS STRANGE. I DO NOT KNOW HOW MANY OF THE WITNESSES’ BELIEFS YOU KNOW, BUT SOME ARE KINDA STRANGE WHEN YOU HEAR THEM WITH NEW EAR’S. THERE WAS THAT AND THERE WAS ALSO THE REACTION OF THE PEOPLE THAT I WAS PREACHING TO. CHINA, HERE I AM, THIS WESTERNER, FEELING LIKE I AM THIS BESTOWER OF TRUTH. AS I BECAME MORE FLUENT IN MANDARIN — I AM A CURIOUS PERSON, AND I STARTED TO ASK MY BIBLE STUDENTS QUESTIONS. I WANTED TO LEARN ABOUT THEIR CULTURE AND WHAT THEY THOUGHT. THE MORE THAT I UNDERSTOOD THE WAY THAT THEY SAW THE WORLD, I REALIZED THAT THERE WAS NO WAY MANY PEOPLE FROM THAT CULTURE WERE GOING TO CONVERT TO BECOME A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS. THERE WAS NO OVERLAP IN THE FRAME OF REFERENCE. I STARTED TO HAVE QUESTIONS. WE WERE TAUGHT THAT GOD IS JUST AND LOVES EVERYONE THE SAME. I THOUGHT IT IS STRANGE, THIS ACCIDENT OF BIRTH, THAT I WAS BORN INTO THIS COUNTRY AND FAMILY THAT WAS A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS AND THAT MEANT I WAS GOING TO BE SAVED. I WAS TRYING TO DISCHARGE MY RESPONSIBILITY BY COMING HERE TO CHINA, BUT THERE WAS NO LEVEL PLAYING FIELD. PEOPLE HAVE BEEN RAISED IN AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT FRAMEWORK AND CULTURE ARE NOT GOING TO FLY INTO THE JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES AND BE LIKE THAT MAKES SENSE. I STARTED TO FEEL LIKE THAT DID NOT MAKE SENSE WITH THE CONCEPT OF GOD I HAD BEEN TAUGHT. YOU DO NOT GO FROM BEING A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS — SOME PEOPLE MIGHT, BUT I DID NOT GO FROM BEING A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS TO AN ATHEIST OVERNIGHT. YOU START TO FEEL LIKE DOES THIS MAKE SENSE AND YOU HAVE INCREMENTAL SHIFTS. A LOT OF PEOPLE ASK, WHEN WAS THAT MOMENT WHERE YOU HAD THE EPIPHANY? THERE WASN’T REALLY THAT MOMENT. YOU HAVE TO UNRAVEL A LOT TO GET TO THAT POINT. THAT INVOLVES, AS YOU SAY, A LOT OF QUESTIONING AND BEING HONEST WITH YOURSELF ABOUT THE ANSWERS.>>DO YOU THINK THE LEADERS OF THE CHURCH THOUGHT OF THAT, THAT THIS COULD ALL UNRAVEL?>>WHEN YOU’RE IN A FUNDAMENTAL RELIGION LIKE THIS, YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE THE TRUTH. IT IS EASY TO FEEL OVERCONFIDENT AND THAT NOTHING CAN TOUCH YOU, NOTHING CAN TAKE THE TRUTH AWAY. ON THE ONE HAND, YOU ARE LIKE THAT, BUT ON THE OTHER HAND YOU ARE TOO SCARED TO EVEN READ A MEMOIR ABOUT LEAVING JEHOVAH’S WITNESS BECAUSE IT MIGHT BREAK YOUR FAITH. WE ARE TAUGHT TO FEAR ANYTHING CRITICAL OF OUR RELIGION. IT IS BLACK AND WHITE THINKING. YOU HAVE A SAVIOR COMPLEX. IT IS EMBARRASSING TO ME NOW. YOU ARE GOING THERE THINKING, “I HAVE GOD ON MY SIDE.” YOU ARE NOT THINKING ABOUT WHERE THE WEAKNESS IN YOUR ARMOR IS AND WHAT MIGHT ACTUALLY TAKE YOU DOWN. YOU ARE KIND OF ARROGANT IF YOU ARE A PERSON WHO GOES TO ANOTHER COUNTRY AND IS LIKE THAT THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF HISTORY — PUT THAT ASIDE AND CONVERT MY 100-YEAR-OLD, NEW AMERICAN RELIGION. AT THE TIME, I HAD NEVER BEEN TO COLLEGE. I FEEL LIKE IT IS EASY TO BE SO CONFIDENT WHEN YOU KNOW SO LITTLE. [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] NOW, LOOKING BACK, I DID NOT KNOW ANYTHING.>>I AM GOING TO ASK YOU TO READ A PART ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AND SET IT UP FOR US.>>TO SET THE SCENE, I HAVE BEEN IN CHINA FOR A WHILE HERE IN SHANGHAI AND I HAVE SOME BIBLE STUDENTS WHO I HAVE FOUND BY SECRETLY FIRST DETERMINING->>WHAT YEAR IS THIS?>>THIS IS 2006, PROBABLY. I HAVE THIS ONE BIBLE STUDENT BECOMING A CLOSE FRIEND, AND THIS IS A SCENE WHERE I AM WITH HER AND WE ARE STUDYING THE BIBLE. WE WOULD STUDY SECRETLY IN PUBLIC PLACES, PRETEND WE WERE JUST HAVING COFFEE AND SUCH. AND HER NAME IS JEAN. I BEGAN TO NOTICE THAT EVEN WITHOUT HER TRYING TO TEACH ME ANYTHING, I HAD BEGUN TO LEARN FROM JEAN. SHE WOULD SHARE A TEACHING OF CONFUCIUS THAT APPLIED TO WHAT WE WERE LEARNING, BEGINNING OUT OF EXCITEMENT BUT THEN CUTTING HERSELF OFF AT HER RUDENESS. I STOPPED THE BIBLE STUDY AND ASKED HER MORE. SHE TAUGHT ME THAT MANY OF THE CHRISTIAN QUALITIES THE BIBLE ENCOURAGED WERE THE SAME AS THOSE ENCOURAGED IN CONFUCIAN THOUGHT — GOODNESS, BENEVOLENCE, FAIRNESS, LOYALTY, COOPERATION, COMPASSION. MANY OF THE MORAL VALUES CONFUCIUS HELD UP WERE THE SAME AS THOSE ENCOURAGED IN THE BIBLE. BOTH EVEN HAD A GOLDEN RULE, THOUGH THEIRS WAS SOMETIMES CALLED SILVER. I FELT SURPRISED THAT THE SAME WISDOM COULD BE DRAWN FROM SUCH DIFFERENT PLACES. WHAT HAD STARTED WITH JEAN HAD ALSO BEGUN TO WEDGE ITSELF IN MY OTHER BIBLE STUDIES. WHEN I GAVE THEM THEIR COPIES OF OUR PUBLICATIONS AND A BIBLE, THEIR COVERS CAREFULLY WRAPPED SO AS NOT TO ALERT ANY AROUND US AS TO THEIR CONTENT, I FELT AS THOUGH I WAS A BESTOWER OF TRUTH, A GIVER OF HAPPINESS AND THE PEACE OF MIND I HAD MYSELF. I WAS CONVINCED I COULD SAVE THEM HERE IN THE NOISY CORNER OF A MCDONALD’S OR THE BENCH OF A SHOPPING MALL. AS MY CHINESE IMPROVED, I NOTICED THE PEOPLE I STUDIED WITH WERE REACTING IN WAYS I HAD NOT PICKED UP ON BEFORE I UNDERSTOOD THE CULTURE AND LANGUAGE TO THE DEGREE I DID NOW. OCCASIONALLY I WOULD FEEL A FLUSH OF EMBARRASSMENT AS I SENSED A SHIFT IN TONE AS THE STUDENT READ THROUGH THE BOOK. HERE’S A QUOTE FROM THE BOOK. AS SOON AS JESUS BECAME KING, HE DREW SATAN AND HIS WICKED ANGELS OUT OF HEAVEN AND DOWN TO EARTH. THAT IS WHY THINGS HAVE BECOME SO BAD ON EARTH SINCE 1914. [LAUGHTER]>>I AM GLAD YOU LAUGHED. 1914? THE DATE SEEMED TO GET LARGER THE LONGER WE STARED AT IT ON THE PAGE. THIS DATE HAD BEEN A GIVEN IN MY LIFE AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE END TIMES WAS BEYOND QUESTION TO ME. THERE WAS A CHAIN OF SCRIPTURE I HAD WRITTEN DOWN THAT I COULD USE TO PROVE ITS TRUTH. AS WE READ THROUGH THE PARAGRAPH AND TALKED THROUGH THE PICTURES IN THE BOOK, IT OCCURRED TO ME SOME OF THIS SEEMED TO BE TO MY STUDENTS QUAINT OR EVEN SILLY. A LOOK OR PAUSE WOULD REVEAL SOME OF THE THINGS I HAD TAKEN AS LIFELONG TRUTHS, THINGS I HAD BUILT MY LIFE AROUND, SEEMED CRAZY TO THEM. AT TIMES, I WOULD CRINGE INSIDE WHEN I NOTICED WHAT I SAID COULD HAVE BEEN INSULTING, PERHAPS EVEN ARROGANT. THE THINGS I TAUGHT AS A UNIVERSAL TRUTH COMPLETELY DISREGARDED THE LIVED EXPERIENCE OF MUCH OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION. CREATION? ONE GOD? EVERLASTING LIFE? STAY AWAY FROM WORLDLY FAMILY MEMBERS? MARRY IN THE LORD? THERE WAS NO ONE IN THE LORD TO MARRY HERE. DON’T CARE ABOUT MONEY? DON’T GET AN EDUCATION? THEY WOULD SOMETIMES LAUGH A LITTLE, ESPECIALLY AT THIS LAST IDEA. IF YOU ALLOW YOURSELF TO START TO QUESTION WHAT YOU BELIEVE IS THE TRUTH, IT STARTS TO — IT AFFECTS SO MANY THINGS IN YOUR LIFE. FOR ONE THING, IN A COMMUNITY LIKE THIS, IT MEANS YOU KNOW, IF YOU COME OUT AND ARE HONEST ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL, EVERYONE WILL CUT YOU OFF OVERNIGHT. YOU ARE FACING THE LOSS OF YOUR COMMUNITY. THE STAKES ARE VERY HIGH. ON THE OTHER HAND, YOU ARE FACING THIS EXISTENTIAL CRISIS, THIS LOSS OF EVERLASTING LIFE. I LIVED MY WHOLE LIFE BECAUSE WE WERE TOLD ARMAGEDDON WAS GOING TO COME ANY DAY. MY MOM WAS TOLD SHE WOULD NEVER GO TO HIGH SCHOOL. IT WAS ALWAYS THAT IMMINENT. THE IDEA OF SUDDENLY FACING THE FACT THAT HERE I AM IN MY 30’S, I PUT OFF DOING ANYTHING THAT I WANTED TO DO MYSELF OR INTERESTS OR TALENTS I HAVE — I WAS TOLD NOT TO PURSUE THEM BECAUSE WE WOULD HAVE FOREVER TO DO THAT. FACED WITH THIS REALIZATION THAT MAYBE THAT IS NOT TRUE, THAT MAYBE I AM NOT GOING TO LIVE FOR ETERNITIES OF TIME BUT ONLY 80 YEARS OR SOMETHING, IS A REALLY TERRIFYING PROSPECT TO RECALIBRATE YOUR MIND OR LIFE. THERE IS A PRACTICAL MATTER. ALL I HAD DONE WAS PREACH, SO I DID NOT REALLY HAVE — I DID NOT HAVE A CAREER TO SPEAK OF. I DID NOT HAVE AN EDUCATION. I DID NOT REALLY KNOW — JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES ARE NOT A COMMUNE, BUT I DID NOT HAVE ANY FRIENDS WHO WERE NOT JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES. I DID NOT REALLY KNOW HOW TO NECESSARILY RELATE TO PEOPLE IN THE REAL WORLD. I WAS TAUGHT TO BE FEARFUL OF THEM. IT IS A LOT. WHAT I ALWAYS SAY IS THIS — PEOPLE WOULD BE LIKE THAT IS SO BRAVE THAT YOU LEFT OR SOMETHING. THE REALITY IS ONLY THING THAT HAPPENED IS THAT STAYING BECAME MORE UNCOMFORTABLE THAN LEAVING. THE MORE YOU SEE, THE MORE YOU BECOME AWARE. I BEGAN TO SIT IN THOSE MEETINGS I HAD SAT IN MY ENTIRE LIFE AND I SUDDENLY HEARD THINGS I DID NOT HEAR BEFORE AND I SAW THINGS THAT FELT WRONG. I THOUGHT I WAS LIVING IN THIS SPIRITUAL PARADISE, AND IT ALL STARTED TO CRUMBLE. WHEN A RELIGION REQUIRES THE KIND OF COMMITMENT A RELIGION LIKE THIS REQUIRES, IT BECOMES UNCOMFORTABLE TO STAY UNLESS YOU CAN FAKE IT. CLEARLY I AM A NONCONFORMIST AND THAT IS WHY I AM HERE, A CUNY BA. I COULD NOT FAKE IT.>>IF YOU CAN VERY QUICKLY EXPLAIN THE CORE TENETS OF THE BELIEF, WHICH IS THE ANXIETY AROUND ARMAGEDDON AND HOW BASICALLY NONBELIEVERS, NON-JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES, ARE CONDEMNED.>>WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE. IF YOU ARE NOT A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS, YOU ARE GOING TO DIE IN ARMAGEDDON.>>EXPLAIN THAT. EVERYONE ELSE RETURNS TO EARTH OR STAYS ON EARTH?>>IT IS A LITTLE DIFFERENT THAN MAINSTREAM CHRISTIANITY. THEY BELIEVE THERE IS A SMALL NUMBER OF PEOPLE GOING TO HEAVEN. THE JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES ARE GOING TO SURVIVE ARMAGEDDON AND POPULATE THE EARTH AND MAKE IT A PARADISE. ALL OF THE WORLDLY PEOPLE WILL BE KILLED.>>AND BE GONE.>>THERE WILL BE A PARADISE OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES. THAT MEANS PRINCE WILL BE THERE.>>YOU WERE STARTING TO LIVE THIS PARALLEL LIFE IN CHINA BECAUSE ALSO YOU GOT A JOB. YOU ARE A PODCASTING PIONEER. YOU HAD A PODCAST BEFORE THEY WERE POPULAR.>>THERE WERE ONLY A FEW AROUND AT THAT TIME. THERE WAS A START UP IN SHANGHAI TEACHING MANDARIN BY PODCAST, AND I USED TO LISTEN TO IT TO LEARN MANDARIN AND THERE WERE JUST A FEW PEOPLE WHO WORKED THERE. I STARTED A PODCAST THAT ENDED UP BEING ON THE TOP 10 OF ITUNES IN 2008 CHINA. — ABOUT BEING A FOREIGNER IN CHINA. THE INTERESTING THING IS I DID NOT TELL ANYONE IN CHINA I WAS A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS BECAUSE I WAS UNDERCOVER. I STARTED THIS SHOW THAT WAS — GOT REALLY POPULAR REALLY FAST AND STILL NO ONE KNEW WHY I KNEW SO MUCH ABOUT CHINESE CULTURE OR EVEN WHY I SPOKE MANDARIN. I JUST HAD TO PRETEND I WAS SOME KIND OF LANGUAGE GENIUS.>>PEOPLE MUST HAVE THOUGHT YOU WERE A SPY. HAD A CANADIAN PASSPORT, TOO. AT LEAST IN THE MIDDLE EAST. IF YOU RUN INTO ANYONE WHO SPEAKS LANGUAGES AND HAS A CANADIAN PASSPORT, YEAH. [LAUGHTER] TOTALLY A SPY.>>IT WAS WEIRD BECAUSE I UNDERSTOOD SO MUCH ABOUT CHINESE CULTURE FROM THESE RELATIONSHIPS I HAD THAT GOT QUITE INTIMATE WITH BIBLE STUDENTS.>>I WONDER IF PEOPLE WHO WERE VERY NICE AND NOT AGGRESSIVE, IF ANYONE IN THE ROOM WILL GET A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS AT THEIR DOORSTEP IF PEOPLE AREN’T SLAMMING THE DOOR IN YOUR FACE BECAUSE IT WAS NOT THE NICE THING TO DO. DID THAT MAKE IT EASIER FOR YOU TO QUESTION? DID SEEING THEIR OWN QUESTIONS, WERE NOT ALWAYS DIRECT, NEVER QUITE THAT DIRECT?>>CULTURALLY, THERE IS A CONCEPT IN CHINA OF A TEACHER. TEACHERS ARE TREATED WITH A LOT OF RESPECT. EVEN THOUGH WHAT WAS MY CREDENTIALS TO BE A TEACHER, THAT IS HOW THE RELATIONSHIP WAS FORMED. PEOPLE ARE VERY RESPECTFUL TO YOU IF YOU ARE SHOWING THEM SOMETHING, EVEN IF THEY ARE LIKE, “THAT’S CRAZY.” THEY DO NOT ACT LIKE IT. AT LEAST AT THAT POINT IN CHINA, A LOT OF YOUNG PEOPLE WERE VERY INTERESTED IN THE BIBLE AND CHRISTIANITY OR IN FOREIGNERS AND WANTED TO MAKE A FOREIGN FRIEND, SO THERE WAS ALSO THAT. WHAT YOU SAY IS TRUE. WHEN YOU ARE A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS IN CANADA OR AMERICA, YOU NEVER GET TO THE POINT WHERE YOU SIT DOWN AND STUDY THE BIBLE WITH SOMEONE BECAUSE EVERYONE JUST LAUGHS AT YOU OR CLOSES THE DOOR. THERE WAS SOMETHING MAYBE ABOUT — IT IS ONE THING TO READ SOMETHING YOURSELF BUT IT IS SOMETHING ELSE TO TEACH IT TO SOMEONE. THAT WAS THE FIRST TIME I HAD STARTED TO TEACH PEOPLE AND NOTICED THINGS ABOUT WHAT I WAS TEACHING THEM.>>YOU WROTE ABOUT YOUR FATHER’S DEATH AND SITTING IN THE BACK OF THE FUNERAL HALL BECAUSE AT THE TIME YOU WERE SHUNNED BY THE RELIGION. YOU WANTED TO BE ACCEPTED BACK INTO THE COMMUNITY AGAIN. YOU WANTED TO BE ACCEPTED BACK INTO THE RELIGION. THIS PART I COULD NOT ENTIRELY GATHER FROM THAT SECTION OF THE BOOK WHETHER YOU WERE HAVING DOUBTS AT THAT POINT OR HOW DEEP THE DOUBTS MIGHT HAVE BEEN AND HAD THEY BEEN PAPERED OVER BY THIS NEED TO BELONG?>>THAT WAS WHEN I WAS YOUNGER, SO LONG BEFORE I WENT TO CHINA I WAS A TEENAGER AND I ENDED UP HAVING PREMARITAL SEX, WHICH IS NOT ALLOWED. YOU COMMIT A SIN AND IF YOU ARE NOT CONSIDERED REPENTANT ENOUGH, YOU ARE DISFELLOWSHIPPED. I HAD BEEN KICKED OUT OF THE CHURCH WHEN I WAS YOUNGER, LONG BEFORE I REINVIGORATED MYSELF. CLEARLY THERE WAS THE PATTERN OF SOMETHING WAS WRONG. I WAS ONLY 19. MY DAD DIED. THE FUNERAL WAS HELD IN THE KINGDOM HALL. I SPEAK IN THE BOOK ABOUT IT A LITTLE BIT. WHEN I WENT TO THE FUNERAL, I HAD — I WAS ONLY ALLOWED TO COME BEFORE IT STARTED AND THEN I AM AT MY FATHER’S FUNERAL BUT NO ONE SPOKE TO ME AND I HAD TO LEAVE. I THINK THE THING MOHAMAD IS GETTING AT IS IN THE BOOK I EXPRESSED I DID NOT FEEL LIKE IT WAS WRONG. I FELT LIKE I DESERVED IT. IT IS INTERESTING THING ABOUT THE HIGH CONTROL RELIGION OR SOME PEOPLE CALL IT CULTS OR FUNDAMENTALIST RELIGION IT THAT SOMETIMES YOU THINK OF A CULT OR SOMETHING AS A LEADER AND YOU ARE HELD THERE AGAINST YOUR WILL, BUT A LOT OF WHAT HAPPENS IS YOU ARE TRAINED TO POLICE YOURSELF BECAUSE OF THE BELIEF. YOU ARE INDOCTRINATED IN THIS WORLD VIEW WHERE EVEN IF YOU DO ANYTHING AGAINST THE RULES YOU KNOW HOW TO BRING YOURSELF BACK IN LINE, AND THAT IS WHY A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST — YOU COULD HAVE JUST READ SOMETHING AND THEN BE ABLE TO DEPROGRAM. EVEN THOUGH IT MIGHT BE A PIECE OF PAPER SITTING RIGHT THERE LIKE THIS BOOK, I WOULD BE LIKE — I GUARANTEE YOU THERE ARE JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES ACROSS THE CITY THAT SAW THIS BOOK AND THOUGHT I DON’T WANT TO READ THAT. IT IS A MECHANISM OF FUNDAMENTALIST RELIGIONS WHERE YOU JUST KNOW HOW TO KEEP YOURSELF IN IT BECAUSE THE STAKES ARE TOO HIGH TO LEAVE.>>TO TURN IT OFF. THAT WAS — IT SOUNDS LIKE THAT MOMENT OF BEING SHUNNED AT YOUR FATHER’S FUNERAL MADE YOU WANT TO RESOLVE TO NOT JUST TURN IT OFF BUT GO BACK IN.>>THE SHUNNING WORKED. IT IS LIKE EMOTIONAL BLACKMAIL. NOT ONLY DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE GOING TO DIE BECAUSE YOU FEEL LIKE ARMAGEDDON IS COMING EVERY DAY, IF YOU BELIEVE IT. BUT YOUR FAMILY DOESN’T SPEAK TO YOU. THE WAY TO GET BACK IS BEING BACK IN THE RELIGION. IT IS A VERY POWERFUL TOOL. NOW MY SISTER DOES NOT TALK TO ME. MY MOM DOESN’T TALK TO ME. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS. IT IS THE ONLY WAY FOR THEM TO KEEP THE CONTROL.>>ONCE YOU WERE ALLOWED BACK IN AND YOU DESCRIBED IT AS THIS MATTER OF FACT — DID YOU END UP IN A DIFFERENT CONGREGATION? THERE WAS AN ANNOUNCEMENT AT AN END OF A SERVICE.>>YOU HAVE TO SORT OF APPLY TO GET BACK IN.>>IT BRINGS US BACK TO HER JOURNEY MORE TO THE PRESENT DAY. I THINK A LOT OF WHAT YOU HAVE TRIED TO DO IN THE BOOK IS STRUGGLE WITH THIS QUESTION OF HOW DO YOU MAKE A LIFE AWAY FROM THIS IDEA OF KNOWING ALL THE ANSWERS? FROM YOUR BIRTH, YOU WERE TOLD THESE ARE THE ANSWERS. MAYBE A SUMMARY OF SOME OF THOSE ANSWERS. THEY ARE ANSWERS TO ALL THE BIG QUESTIONS WE ALL HAVE. ONCE YOU STARTED DOWN THAT PATH IN CHINA, YOU KNEW YOU’RE GOING TO END UP LEAVING. HOW DO YOU MOVE ON? HOW DO YOU FIND THE ROADMAP? HOW DO YOU MOVE ON FROM THAT POINT?>>I WILL SAY THAT IS ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS SINCE I’VE LEFT. I HAVE BEEN IN NEW YORK 10 YEARS NOW AND I’M A VERY MOTIVATED PERSON. I LIKE DOING THINGS IN THE WORLD. I AM VERY CURIOUS. IT IS HARD TO MAKE UP THAT KIND OF LOST TIME OF HAVING STARTED EVERYTHING WHEN YOU WERE IN COLLEGE AT 18 YOU EMBARK ON THIS CAREER AND MAKE CONNECTIONS. AT FIRST, I HAD NO IDEA. ALL I KNEW WAS I NEEDED A JOB AND I NEEDED TO SUPPORT MYSELF. ONE THING THAT WAS WONDERFUL ABOUT NEW YORK IS THERE ARE SO MANY SMART PEOPLE HERE. ALTHOUGH I MOVED TO NEW YORK — I DO NOT KNOW WHAT I WAS THINKING. IT WAS A DUMB THING TO DO WHEN YOU HAVE NO EDUCATION, NO CONNECTIONS, NO MONEY. IT WORKED OUT. [LAUGHTER] ONE THING GREAT ABOUT NEW YORK IS YOU MEET SO MANY PEOPLE WHO ARE REALLY SMART. I FELT LIKE A SPONGE. I LEARNED FROM PEOPLE AND I LISTENED AND I ASKED QUESTIONS. EVENTUALLY, THAT TOOK ME TO COLLEGE. I KNEW THAT WAS THE WAY I COULD OWN IT MYSELF RATHER THAN ONLY RELYING ON OTHER PEOPLE.>>I AM GLAD YOU BROUGHT UP THE DECISION TO COME TO COLLEGE. I KNOW YOU ALSO APPLIED, WHEN YOU MADE THAT DECISION TO APPLY TO COLUMBIA. YOU WERE ACCEPTED. YOU GOT A SCHOLARSHIP, BUT YOU STILL WOULD HAVE NEEDED TO TAKE OUT SIGNIFICANT LOANS. YOU DECIDED TO COME TO CUNY INSTEAD.>>BECAUSE I HAD NEVER DONE SAT’S OR ANYTHING, THEY PUT ME IN BROOKLYN COLLEGE FIRST FOR A SEMESTER AND THEN LET ME TRANSFER TO HUNTER. THEN I WAS IN THE THOMAS HUNTER HONORS PROGRAM FOR A WHILE AND THEN I FOUND OUT ABOUT CUNY BA THROUGH YOU. FOR ME, IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT, IMAGINE BEING SOMEONE IN YOUR MID-30’S, WHICH IS WHEN I STARTED GOING. I THOUGHT I WILL APPLY TO NYU, COLUMBIA. I ASKED PEOPLE WHAT SHOULD I DO? I DID NOT KNOW WHAT PEOPLE DID TO GET INTO COLLEGE, AND ALSO CUNY. COLUMBIA ACCEPTED ME, GAVE ME A $10,000 SCHOLARSHIP A YEAR, AND I STILL WOULD’VE BEEN PAYING $20,000 A YEAR JUST FOR TUITION. IT IS ONE THING TO HAVE THAT DEBT WHEN YOU’RE 18, BUT IMAGINE YOU ARE ALREADY IN YOUR 30’S. YOU ARE CONTEMPLATING FINISHING AROUND 40 AND THEN YOU’RE GOING TO TRY AND PAY OFF THIS DEBT AND FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING WITH YOUR LIFE. CUNY WAS A GODSEND FOR SURE. [LAUGHTER]>>I WILL SAY THIS, THOUGH — I HAVE NEVER SAT IN A CLASSROOM AT COLUMBIA, BUT THERE ARE SO MANY MOMENTS WHERE I HAVE BEEN SITTING IN HUNTER COLLEGE, JUST THE CLASSROOM IS SO DIVERSE. THERE ARE PEOPLE OF NOT JUST YOUNG BUT ALSO OLDER. I LOOK OUT THE DIRTY WINDOWS ON LEXINGTON AVENUE AND I THINK, WOW, THIS IS A WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE, TO BE ABLE TO GO TO SCHOOL IN THIS CITY, TO BE AROUND PEOPLE THAT IN MY DAILY LIFE I NEVER WOULD HAVE HAD A CHANCE TO INTERACT WITH. ALMOST EVERYONE IN MY CLASS IS USUALLY FIRST GENERATION IMMIGRANTS, JUST SO MANY DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES. I TOOK A GENDER AS RELIGION CLASS LAST SEMESTER. EVERY MAJOR WORLD RELIGION WAS REPRESENTED BY STUDENTS IN THE CLASS. IT IS A SPECIAL PLACE IN THAT WAY.>>I HAVE NEVER SAT IN A COLUMBIA CLASSROOM EITHER. I HOPE THIS IS NOT THE CLIP THAT CUNY TV USES. [LAUGHTER] SITTING IN SEVERAL CLASSROOMS, IN THE UNIVERSITY DOWNTOWN, IT IS REMARKABLE THAT — HOW MUCH THE CUNY SYSTEM REFLECTS THE DIVERSITY OF THIS CITY COMPARED TO THE PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES OF THIS CITY.>>I ALSO WANTED TO ADD THAT NOW THAT I’M IN THE CUNY BA PROGRAM THERE IS ANOTHER LEVEL OF THIS. I FEEL LIKE I AM THIS PERSON WHOSE LIFE MAKES NO SENSE IN SOME WAYS TO THE AVERAGE PERSON. IF YOU LOOK AT THE TRAJECTORY OF WHAT I HAVE DONE AND THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED, THERE IS NO WAY TO FIT IT IN A BOX. I AM SO WEIRD.>>THIS IS THE PLACE.>>HERE YOU FIND THIS PLACE WHERE YOU CAN FORM YOUR OWN DEGREE, WHERE THIS INTERDISCIPLINARY THING THAT CAN REFLECT WHO YOU ARE. IT IS A REAL RELIEF TO SOMEONE LIKE ME THAT HAS THIS STRANGE BACKGROUND BECAUSE YOU FIND THIS PLACE WHERE THERE ARE MENTORS THAT SEE WHO YOU ARE AND HELP YOU GET WHERE YOU WANT TO BE, WHICH IS REALLY WONDERFUL.>>I’M GLAD YOU BROUGHT UP MENTORS BECAUSE I WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT YOUR ACADEMIC ADVISOR. YOU TOLD ME ABOUT A CONVERSATION YOU HAD WITH YOUR ACADEMIC ADVISOR WITHIN THE LAST YEAR OR SO WHERE YOU WERE BEGINNING TO DESPAIR THIS IDEA OF WASTED YEARS. IT SOUNDS LIKE YOUR ADVISOR GAVE YOU A DIFFERENT WAY TO LOOK AT IT.>>I ALWAYS LIKED SCHOOL AND DID REALLY WELL IN SCHOOL, BUT EVEN WHEN I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL, TEACHERS WOULD NOTICE AND SAY YOU SHOULD GET ON THIS TRACK OR SOMETHING. EVEN I MYSELF, POLICING MYSELF, WOULD BE LIKE THAT IS NOT FOR ME. I HAVE TO PREACH. THERE WAS THIS SENSE WHEN I STARTED GOING TO SCHOOL I REMEMBERED HOW MUCH I LOVED SCHOOL AND I FELT LIKE I AM JUST A NATURAL STUDENT, A NATURAL ACADEMIC TO SOME DEGREE. BUT I AM NOW IN MY MID-30’S. I WANT TO HAVE CHILDREN. I’M TRYING TO WORK BECAUSE I NEED TO SUPPORT MYSELF. I’M TRYING TO FIGURE OUT THE TRAJECTORY OF MY LIFE AND I’M TRYING TO GET THIS DEGREE DONE. THERE HAVE BEEN STOPS AND STARTS FOR ME. I HAD CHILDREN. I HAD A CHILD THAT DIED. I HAVE HAD A LOT OF THINGS THAT I HAD TO OVERCOME AND BETWEEN GOING TO SCHOOL I STARTED BEING A PARENTAL LEAVE ADVOCATE. I WANTED TO DO ALL THESE THINGS BECAUSE I FOR SO MANY YEARS HAD NOT DONE WHAT I WANTED TO DO. I STILL SOMETIMES FEEL LIKE I AM SPINNING MY WHEELS BECAUSE I HAVE NOT FINISHED A DEGREE AND I STILL — MY CAREER HAS NOT REALLY WORKED OUT. THE BOOK HAD NOT COME OUT YET. A LOT OF THINGS WERE IN FLUX. I SAT IN HER OFFICE HAVING A BAD DAY THE FIRST DAY I MET MY ADVISOR IN THE RELIGION DEPARTMENT. I WAS LIKE NOTHING MAKES SENSE. I FEEL LIKE I DO NOT KNOW WHAT I AM DOING. I AM THE TYPICAL 18-YEAR-OLD UNDERGRAD, I DO NOT KNOW WHAT I’M DOING WITH MY LIFE. I DID TELL HER I HAVE THIS BOOK COMING OUT. I AM WRITING ARTICLES FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES BUT ALSO TRYING TO FINISH THIS PAPER. I AM SO OLD COMPARED EVERYBODY ELSE. MY LIFE DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE BECAUSE I FEEL LIKE I WASTED ALL THIS TIME THAT I WOULD HAVE BEEN IN A DIFFERENT PLACE NOW IF I HADN’T BEEN IN THAT RELIGION SO LONG. SHE SAID STOP. I REALLY LOVE THIS WOMAN. SHE WAS LIKE DON’T EVER LET ME HEAR YOU SAY THAT AGAIN. IT MATTERS HERE. YOU JUST FIND THE PLACE WHERE IT MATTERS. IT MAKES ME FEEL REALLY EMOTIONAL BECAUSE IT MEANT SO MUCH TO HAVE SOMEONE SAY IT TO ME THAT JUST BECAUSE WHEN I’M APPLYING FOR A JOB AND PEOPLE ARE LIKE WHAT, THAT IS NOT THE ONLY PLACE WHERE YOUR LIFE COURSE MATTERS. IT REALLY CHANGED MY WAY OF THINKING AND THEN SHE JUST IS A VERY PRACTICAL WOMAN AND IS LIKE ALL RIGHT. HOW ARE WE GOING TO DO THIS? SIT DOWN. YOU’RE GOING TO DO THIS, THIS, THIS. IT REALLY HELPED ME SHIFT MY PERSPECTIVE. THERE IS THAT THING WHERE I WAS IN HUNTER FOR A LONG TIME. BECAUSE I’M NOT A FULL-TIME STUDENT, I AM EVENINGS AND WEEKENDS MORE. NO ONE REALLY KNOWS WHO YOU ARE BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT REALLY IN ANYONE’S PRESENCE MUCH. BUT HAVING THIS MENTOR NOW, BECAUSE WITH THE CUNY BA PROGRAM YOU HAVE A MENTOR, IT HAS CHANGED IT. THERE WAS SOMEBODY YOU CAN GO TO THAT CAN SEE THINGS THAT YOU CAN’T SEE. BEFORE I WAS TAKING THIS, TAKING THAT, BUT THAT WAS HELPFUL FOR ME.>>I AM GOING TO ASK AMBER ONE MORE QUESTION, AND THEN WE WILL OPEN IT UP TO THE AUDIENCE. SINCE YOUR BOOK WAS PUBLISHED, YOU HAVE GOTTEN RAVE REVIEWS STARTING WITH THE NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW WE QUOTED IN THE BEGINNING. YOU HAVE BEEN ON NPR, THE DAILY SHOW, YOU’VE BEEN ON THE BBC, AND MANY OTHER INTERNATIONAL AND NATIONAL NEWS OUTLETS. YOU HAVE ALSO HEARD FROM FORMER WITNESSES AND POSSIBLY ALSO FROM CURRENT MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH. IT SEEMS LIKE YOU HAVE BECOME SOMETHING OF AN UNOFFICIAL, INFORMAL KIND OF ADVISOR, COUNSELOR, CULT DEPROGRAMMER.>>I THOUGHT YOU WOULD SAY CULT LEADER.>>BEING INVOLVED IN PRIVATE FACEBOOK PAGES, BEING INVOLVED IN I THINK PART OF IT IS JUST GIVING PEOPLE WHO ARE LOST — FELT LOST, AND FELT THEY DIDN’T HAVE THE ROADMAP, GIVING THEM SOMETHING OF A ROADMAP. WHAT HAS THAT BEEN LIKE SINCE THE BOOK?>>ONE THING THAT HAS BEEN REALLY INTERESTING IS HOW MUCH MORE BROAD IT IS THEN JUST JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES. YOU DO NOT REALIZE UNTIL YOU START TALKING ABOUT THIS STUFF HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN RAISED — EVEN THOUGH IT IS A SPECTRUM. NOT ALL BELIEF SYSTEMS ARE AS EXTREME AS THIS AND SOME ARE MORE EXTREME THAN THE JEHOVAH WITNESSES BUT THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT IDENTIFY WITH THIS FEELING OF HAVING BEING RAISED IN A CERTAIN RELIGIOUS CULTURE AND THEN GETTING OLDER AND FINDING IT DOES NOT WORK FOR THEM. THERE HAVE BEEN A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT HAVE WRITTEN ME ANYTHING FROM DIFFERENT FUNDAMENTALIST CHRISTIAN GROUPS — THE EX – MORMON COMMUNITY IS INCREDIBLE, THE PARALLELS BETWEEN JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES AND MORMONS. EVEN THOUGH THE BELIEFS ARE TOTALLY DIFFERENT, THE MECHANISMS ARE SIMILAR. IT HAS BEEN THIS INTERESTING PROCESS, SEEING HOW ONE STORY CAN BE A BROADER STORY OF A LOT OF PEOPLE. I THINK THAT IS ONE OF THE WONDERFUL THINGS I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT BEING A WRITER. NOT ONLY DO YOU GET A SENSE OF FULFILLMENT WRITING THE BOOK AND THEN PEOPLE READ IT AND THEY SAY IT HELPED THEM AND THEM TELLING YOU IT HELPED THEM HELPS YOU. IT’S SO WONDERFUL — I HIGHLY RECOMMEND WRITING A BOOK. [LAUGHTER] IT IS A BEAUTIFUL EXPERIENCE, TO CONNECT WITH PEOPLE AROUND THIS THING AND AROUND THIS COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE. MORE SPECIFICALLY, A LOT OF — THERE HAVE NOT BEEN MANY BOOKS BY JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES THAT HAVE LEFT BECAUSE OF THAT REASON. MANY PEOPLE ARE AFRAID TO WRITE ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE AND WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO GO TO COLLEGE SO A LOT OF US DO NOT EVEN KNOW IF WE HAVE THE CAPABILITY TO WRITE SOMETHING. IT IS HARD TO GET TO THAT POINT. IT HAS BEEN VERY NICE TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR PEOPLE TO FEEL LIKE THEIR STORY IS TOLD. A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE SAID THAT HAS BEEN WONDERFUL FOR THEM TO SEE THAT BOOK IN THE WORLD BECAUSE IT FELT LIKE PEOPLE HEARD THEIR STORY, TOO. AND THAT IS REALLY NICE.>>WE ARE GOING TO OPEN THE FLOOR FOR QUESTIONS FOR ABOUT 15 MINUTES.>>HEY, AMBER. I’M DAVID. I GREW UP IN EXTREME JUDAISM. I IRONICALLY AM 35. FOR ME, TRYING TO LEAVE EXTREME JUDAISM HAS BEEN VERY DIFFICULT. SOCIAL MEDIA HAS CHANGED THE GAME BECAUSE THEY HAVE SO MANY WAYS OF THREATENING ME. I’M SORT OF INTERESTED TO HEAR — IT DOES NOT SOUND LIKE THE CHURCH HAS THREATENED YOU THE WAY I FEEL LIKE I HAVE BEEN. I AM JUST TRY TO GET A SENSE OF — I DO REMEMBER A VIDEO OF YOU SITTING WAITING TO SEE IF THEY ARE GOING TO EMAIL YOU, THE CHURCH LEADERS, AFTER YOU PUT OUT THE BOOK. I’M JUST TRYING TO GET A SENSE OF WHAT THAT EXPERIENCE HAS BEEN –>>THE WITNESSES TRY TO STAY OUT OF THE LIMELIGHT IN THAT REGARD. I HAVE NOT HAD ANY KIND OF HARASSMENT OR ANYTHING, THANK GOODNESS. I FEEL FOR YOU. THAT MUST BE EXTREMELY SCARY. I KNOW OTHER PEOPLE HAVE HAD THAT EXPERIENCE WITH OTHER GROUPS LIKE SCIENTOLOGY AND THAT TYPE OF THING. ARE THERE PEOPLE IN YOUR SPECIFIC COMMUNITY YOU CAN FIND THAT HAVE LEFT THAT HAVE A SUPPORT GROUP OR SOMETHING THAT HAVE BEEN THROUGH THAT EXPERIENCE? THAT COULD BE HELPFUL. MOST PEOPLE I KNOW IN THE COMMUNITY FIND EACH OTHER ON FACEBOOK GROUPS, TWITTER, THOSE TYPES OF THINGS. THAT IS A WAY TO COME TOGETHER. HOPEFULLY THAT CAN HELP. YOU NEED SUPPORT DEFINITELY. I THINK BEST SUPPORT SOMETIMES DOES COME FROM SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN THROUGH THE EXPERIENCE BECAUSE THEN YOU CAN SEE HOW TO NAVIGATE IT TO THE OTHER SIDE.>>SO AMBER I SHOULD TELL YOU I AM AN EX- JEHOVAH’S WITNESS. I LOVE THE BOOK.>>WELCOME. [LAUGHTER]>>EVERYTHING SHE SAID, I SAID, YUP. YUP. MY QUESTION IS, WHEN I LEFT, I WAS ANGRY EVERY DAY FOR ABOUT FOUR YEARS STRAIGHT. SOME DAYS I WAS HAPPY TO BE FREE. IT WAS AN EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER. ANGER WAS THE MOST. THAT WAS ONE OF THE THINGS I WANTED TO ASK YOU. WHEN YOU LEFT, YOU SAID THIS IS IT, I AM GONE, OVER, GOODBYE. WHAT EMOTIONALLY DID YOU GO THROUGH?>>IT WAS SIMILAR. TO THIS DAY, I SOMETIMES STILL GET ANGRY. I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOT DENY YOURSELF THAT. LET YOURSELF FEEL ANGRY SOMETIMES. THE BIGGEST THING THAT HELPED ME AND HELPED ME TO OVERCOME THAT FEELING AND NOT LET IT CONTROL MY LIFE IS THAT I JUST DID NOT WANT TO SPEND ANY MORE ENERGY ON IT. THERE WAS SO MUCH TO DO IN THE REAL WORLD. THAT IS THE THING WITH ANGER. YOU BECOME WRAPPED UP IN THE ANGER AND YOU ARE STILL LIVING IN THAT CULT OR WORLD. FOR ME, I THINK IT WAS LIKE, GOING TO SCHOOL HELPED A LOT. YOU JUST START LEARNING NEW THINGS, MEETING NEW PEOPLE, AND FILLING UP YOUR LIFE. IT HAS BEEN A LITTLE MORE THAN 10 YEARS AND PUBLISHING THIS BOOK BROUGHT IT ALL BACK. I REALIZED HOW MY LIFE IS — THE RELIGION HAS BECOME THIS BIG — WHEN I FIRST LEFT, I WAS ON THE 10% OF MY LIFE AND IT TOOK UP 90% OF MY HEADSPACE. THE MORE YOU BUILD A LIFE AND LEARN OTHER THINGS, IT SEEMS SO SMALL TO ME NOW. SOMEONE ASKED ME AT A BOOK TALK. WHAT IF YOU COULD GO TO THE GOVERNING BODY AND SAY SOMETHING TO THEM? AT THE TIME I WAS LIKE WHAT WOULD I SAY? REFORM YOUR POLICY? THEN I THOUGHT I WOULD BE LIKE THAT SOCCER PLAYER THAT DID NOT WANT TO GO TO THE WHITE HOUSE. I WOULD NOT GO. {LAUGHTER] NO THANKS. {LAUGHTER] I THINK IT TAKES A LONG TIME AND THEN YOU HEAL FROM IT.>>THANK YOU. GENTLEMAN AT THE END OF THE ROW?>>MY NAME IS JORDAN. I’M AN EX- JW TOO. I FADED ABOUT 13 YEARS AGO AND I DID NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY PERSON WHO HAD THIS EXPERIENCE, SO IT WAS KIND OF LONELY. FOR SOME REASON, I CAME UPON AN ARTICLE ABOUT YOUR BOOK AND THAT WOKE ME UP THAT THERE WERE OTHER PEOPLE HAVING THAT SAME EXPERIENCE. I WANT TO SAY THANK YOU.>>THANKS FOR COMING.>>I WANT TO ASK — DOES IT STILL AFFECT YOU, HAVING GROWN UP IN IT TODAY?>>I DO NOT THINK — IT DOES NOT AFFECT ME IN THE SENSE THAT I HAVE ANXIETY ABOUT THE WORLD ENDING OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT WHERE I THINK WHAT IF THEY WERE RIGHT ANYMORE. IT AFFECTS ME BECAUSE IT AFFECTED A LOT OF THINGS IN MY LIFE. IT AFFECTED THE FACT THAT I HAD CHILDREN LATER. I STILL DO NOT HAVE A LOT OF STABILITY I WOULD LIKE CAREER WISE. I FEEL LIKE I CANNOT — MY LIFE WILL NEVER REALLY LOOK THE WAY THAT OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES LOOK. AS WE ALWAYS SAY, IF IT HAD NOT HAPPENED, I WOULD NOT HAVE WRITTEN A BOOK. I TRY TO LEARN TO FIND HOW TO APPRECIATE THE FACT THAT MY LIFE IS DIFFERENT THAN OTHER PEOPLE AND TO CELEBRATE THAT. THAT CAN BE LIKE A REALLY WONDERFUL THING TOO. WE DO NOT HAVE TO BE ALL THE SAME. I THINK THERE CAN BE SOMETHING REALLY NICE ABOUT EMBRACING THAT AND ENJOYING BEING A NONCONFORMIST.>>QUESTION IN THE BACK?>>I AM ALSO AN EX-JEHOVAH’S WITNESS. I WAS RAISED IN THE RELIGION. I LEFT 10 YEARS AGO. I CAN RELATE TO A LOT OF WHAT YOU SAID, EXCEPT FOR THE CHINA BIT. I HAVE NOT READ YOUR BOOK HERE. I ONLY BECAME AWARE OF IT A COUPLE WEEKS AGO, SO THAT IS GOING TO CHANGE. I HAVE A COUPLE QUESTIONS FOR YOU. IN CHINA, THERE IS A LOT OF CENSORSHIP CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET REGARDING WHAT YOU CAN VIEW AND READ. HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO VALIDATE YOUR DOUBTS? AND SINCE YOU WERE A MISSIONARY USUALLY THE GOVERNING BODY GIVES YOU A ONE WAY PLANE TICKET TO THE COUNTRY. HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT FOR YOU TO GET BACK FROM CHINA TO YOUR HOME COUNTRY?>>WELL THE FIRST QUESTION IS A REALLY INTERESTING ONE BECAUSE YES, YOU CAN GOOGLE SEARCH IN CHINA SOMETHING WITH CERTAIN KEY WORDS AND SOMETIMES GET THROUGH ONCE. AND THEN THE SECOND TIME YOU GO BACK, IT’LL BE BLOCKED. THEY DO HAVE A LOT OF PEOPLE MONITORING THE INTERNET. SO THERE WERE THINGS THAT I FOUND BUT YOU KNOW, WHEN I LEFT THERE’S A LOT MORE, BECAUSE AS I MENTIONED IT WAS BEFORE SOCIAL MEDIA SO NOW THERE’S A LOT MORE MATERIAL ACCESSIBLE, SORT OF LIKE EXCERPTS ON ACTIVISM OR MATERIALS. THERE WERE A FEW BOOKS. BASICALLY I STARTED ORDERING BOOKS AND GETTING THEM DELIVERED TO PEOPLE I KNEW OVERSEAS, PEOPLE WHO LISTENED TO MY PODCAST. THAT WAS MY CONNECTION TO THE WORLD WAS MY PODCAST, SENT TO ME. IT WAS BOOKS THAT REALLY HELPED ME DEPROGRAM AND OTHER PEOPLE, BEING AROUND NORMAL PEOPLE. YOU WILL SEE WHEN YOU READ THE BOOK THAT THERE IS A WHOLE OTHER SUBPLOT IN THE BOOK OF STARTING TO INTERACT AND TALK ABOUT RELIGIOUS THINGS WITH A PERSON WHO IS — I BECOME VERY CLOSE TO. OTHER PEOPLE PLAY A HUGE PART IN THIS STORY. WE NEED OTHER PEOPLE. WHEN YOU HAVE COMMUNITIES LIKE THIS, THEY OFTEN ISOLATE YOU. THINGS CANNOT STAND UP TO SCRUTINY OF PEOPLE QUESTIONING THEM. IT IS HELPFUL, BE ABLE TO STEP OUTSIDE YOUR COMMUNITY. WHAT WAS THAT SECOND PART?>>THE ONE-WAY TICKET.>>I WAS A PIONEER. I USE THE WORD MISSIONARY LOOSELY. THERE ARE ALL THESE CATEGORIES. IT WAS HARD TO GET OUT, BUT IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE RELIGION SENDING ME THERE OR NOT. I WENT ON MY OWN TO GO. GETTING OUT OF CHINA WAS HARD BECAUSE I DID NOT GO HOME BECAUSE EVERYONE AT HOME WHERE I CAME FROM, VANCOUVER, WAS SHUNNING ME. SO I ENDED UP IN NEW YORK BECAUSE WHERE ELSE WOULD ONE GO? [LAUGHTER] THE GOOD THING ABOUT NEW YORK — IT IS EASY TO MOVE TO, IN A WAY. YOU JUST HAVE TO RENT A ROOM. YOU CAN EAT PIZZA. [LAUGHTER]>>I AM NOT AN EX-JEHOVAH’S WITNESS. I AM AN EX-ORTHODOX JEW. I WENT TO CHINA AND SPENT A SUMMER IN BEIJING DOING MISSIONARY WORK FOR AN ULTRA ORTHODOX JEWISH OUTFIT. I WANTED TO ASK YOU — I GOT A PHD IN SOCIOLOGY AND MY DISSERTATION LOOKS AT EX- ULTRA ORTHODOX JEWS. ONE THING I FOCUS ON IS RESIDUAL EFFECTS, THINGS THAT STAY WITH PEOPLE EVEN AFTER THEY LEAVE THEIR RELIGION, EITHER IN TERMS OF WAYS OF THINKING OR EVEN BODILY MOVEMENTS OR THINGS THEY ARE ACCUSTOMED TO DOING THAT WERE INGRAINED IN THEM FROM THE RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY THAT KIND OF STICK TO THEM EVEN AFTER THEY LEAVE. I AM CURIOUS IF YOU HAVE SEEN YOURSELF — WAYS OF THINKING OR WAYS OF BEHAVING THAT ARE CLEARLY ORIGINATE IN THE CHURCH.>>I AM VERY GOOD AT RINGING DOORBELLS. [LAUGHTER] BUT IT DOES CARRYOVER. THIS IS VERY WEIRD, BUT I WANTED TO BUY AN APARTMENT IN NEW YORK BUT YOU KNOW HOW HARD THAT IS, A FEW YEARS AGO, ALWAYS GETTING OUT BID. I CAME UP WITH THIS IDEA TO PUT NOTES UNDER THE DOORS OF A BUILDING AND BE LIKE DO YOU WANT TO SELL YOUR APARTMENT AND MY PARTNER WAS MORTIFIED. HE WAS LIKE ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THIS IS SO EMBARRASSING. I WAS LIKE JUST DO IT. I WAS VERY PREGNANT AT THE TIME SO I MADE HIM DO IT. SOMEONE CALLED BACK AND WE ENDED UP BUYING AN APARTMENT AND HE SAID THAT IS BECAUSE YOU WERE A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS THAT YOU THOUGHT OF THAT. [LAUGHTER] I HAVE NO FEARS OF APPROACHING YOUR DOORS. YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT THE THINGS THAT SERVE YOU AND BE HAPPY FOR THEM.>>THAT IS A PERFECT NOTE TO END ON. BUT AMBER IS GOING TO SIGN BOOKS OUTSIDE AND BE AVAILABLE FOR MORE QUESTIONS. AND ALSO BRIAN IS GOING TO SAY SOMETHING — PLEASE.>>LET’S THANK AMBER. [APPLAUSE]>>THANK YOU ALL FOR COMING. [APPLAUSE]>>I WOULD LIKE TO THANK YOU ALL FOR COMING OUT THIS EVENING. IT WAS A REALLY FANTASTIC Q&A SESSION AND WE HOPE TO SEE YOU AGAIN AT ONE OF OUR UPCOMING EVENTS. HAVE A PLEASANT EVENING.

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