Amber Scorah On Losing Her Faith, And Her Son, In 'Leaving The Witness' Amber Scorah was a Jehovah's Witness and a missionary in China when she began to harbor doubts about the apocalypse. Disavowed by nearly everyone she knew, her memoir is a tale of starting over.

'Leaving The Witness': The End Of The World As She Knew It, Upon Losing Her Religion

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Amber Scorah was a third-generation Jehovah's Witness, and she believed she had the answers to life's biggest questions; the answer was Armageddon, and it predetermined everything.

AMBER SCORAH: If the world is ending, why would you go to college? Why would you get a career?

KING: So she didn't. Instead, like every other member of the church, she dedicated her life to spreading the word. She was married by the age of 22, and she and her husband moved to China to work as missionaries. Everything had to be secret. And for most of her time in Shanghai, her work saving souls was exhilarating.

SCORAH: It's almost like you've won an existential argument. I don't know, like, it's - there's nothing like taking someone, especially someone that has a totally different frame of reference, totally different belief system, and seeing them change their mind. It's almost so affirming. Like, oh, this - I definitely have the truth.

KING: But then some things happened that left Amber less sure about the truth. She talked to Rachel about her new memoir. It's called "Leaving The Witness: Exiting A Religion And Finding A Life."

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So to support yourself in your missionary work, you ended up getting this great job, working as the host of a podcast about life in China...

SCORAH: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...From the perspective of a Western foreigner. Through that you meet a man named Jonathan. Introduce us to him, and explain what he became to you.

SCORAH: Yeah, it was interesting. At this job, when I started working making the podcast, it was before social media. It was around 2006, when the whole world was socializing through forums. Everyone was just ready to talk to each other online. We had many listeners to the podcast, and I would moderate the community forums. So Jonathan was one of the listeners, and it was nothing - I didn't intend to develop any kind of deeper relationship with him, but we just started talking every day. The topics started very innocently, but later evolved into more deep subjects.

MARTIN: Deep subjects like the very foundations of your religion.

SCORAH: Yeah, I did reveal to him at some point what my religion was. And I guess later he told me that already he had Jehovah's Witnesses on his radar as his fifth-favorite cult (laughter).

MARTIN: The fifth-favorite, though; not even No. 3.

SCORAH: (Laughter) Exactly. So he just did what I wouldn't have thought of doing, which was to educate myself about my religion outside the framework of what I was allowed to read, which was our own organization's publications.

MARTIN: So this relationship gets deeper. You get closer. It does eventually - when you go visit him, it becomes physically intimate. And you decide to leave your husband. Did you realize in that moment that you were also leaving the faith?

SCORAH: It was more like this - there were already other threads that were starting to make me have doubts before I even talked to Jonathan. For example, being in this foreign culture and sitting down, speaking Chinese, another language - a language that basically causes you to have to revamp your entire way of thinking in order to speak it - had started to make me hear the things that I was teaching for the first time with new ears. And I realized that some of the things sounded kind of crazy. And also, I started to feel a little arrogant because these people had thousands of years of cultural history and wisdom, and here I was with my 100-or-so-year-old religion telling them to just throw that all away for this; this is true.

So there were already sort of cracks forming. And then, I think, when he actually directly made me look at my beliefs and question them and think about them, at first I was very resistant, but the things that he said started to just worm their way into my brain. When I think about the end of my marriage - it's funny - I didn't go see Jonathan with the intent of ending my marriage. However, it's a very strange thing when you're in a religion and your whole worldview is this apocalyptic worldview, the only kind of ending you know is apocalypse, Armageddon.

MARTIN: To blow it all up.

SCORAH: Blowing it all up, exactly. And my religion is not one that you can just sort of, like, slink out of, especially given the position I was in. I was a pioneer missionary. I was married to an elder. I was in this foreign land, there for preaching. If I just tried to walk away, it doesn't work like that (laughter). People are just going to be like, oh, what happened to Amber?

MARTIN: Right.

SCORAH: So I think there was sort of this combination of things that - there was something that just propelled me to this act, which I knew would be a point of no return.

MARTIN: So you needed him to extricate yourself from your faith.

SCORAH: Yes.

MARTIN: But then, in that, you lost him, and at the end of it, you're all alone. You did lose all your family. You did lose all your friends, your community, through this.

SCORAH: I don't think I consciously chose that, but it's just - there was no other way for it to end than to have a new beginning. And also, I was just reading something where someone was talking about you can never have changed without loss. You know, people always say they want their life to change, but then they don't change their life because they're afraid of loss. You can't have one without the other.

MARTIN: Now, at this point, I should say that the conversation took a sharp turn, as the book does, near the end of it. We learn that Amber moves to New York. She starts over. She falls in love. She has a baby. Then she suffers a trauma that is hard to describe. Her son was only a few months old when she dropped him off for his very first day at daycare. He died there, just hours after she left him. The story got national attention when it happened.

SCORAH: I don't know how to describe the anguish. Like, the devastation was complete, on every level. But as far as just finding meaning, it's interesting because when I was a Jehovah's Witness, we had the answers to all life's disturbing questions, including, like, what happens when someone dies? Why would a innocent child die? Why would God allow that to happen? But the reality is, is that if you have answers to all of life's questions, yes, it feels very meaningful. But if those answers aren't true, then that's also meaningless. There's a way through these kinds of things without religion.

MARTIN: Yeah.

SCORAH: And I think, mostly, it has to do with other people and with love; that's what's brought meaning to life again for me.

MARTIN: You have a daughter, right?

SCORAH: Yes.

MARTIN: How old is she?

SCORAH: She's almost 3.

MARTIN: Have you or do you plan to take her to China?

SCORAH: I would love to because one of the characters in the book, Jean, who was my bible study in China, she never ended up becoming a Jehovah's Witness. And we are friends to this day, and she also has a daughter now, so we're hoping to have a reunion with the two of them and us.

MARTIN: How do you think of that place, where so much of your life changed?

SCORAH: I have so much gratitude to China because I know for a fact if I had not been in China, I would have still been a Jehovah's Witness who was thinking the world was going to end every day and, basically, using my life for something that was effectually a myth.

MARTIN: That's all so interesting. I mean, you did go through the apocalypse. Losing a child is like the end...

SCORAH: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Right? - of life in so many ways.

SCORAH: Yeah.

MARTIN: And then you came out on the other side.

SCORAH: Yeah. I think it's something that teaches you something, that life does go on and there is a way through. There's no way around these things, but there is a way through.

MARTIN: Amber Scorah - her memoir is titled "Leaving The Witness." Thank you so much for talking with us.

SCORAH: Thank you, Rachel. It was so nice to be here.

(SOUNDBITE OF POPPY ACKROYD'S "STRATA")

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