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Jehovah’s Witnesses vs. Staks: Round One

Last weekend two young Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on my door. While most people would probably slam the door in their faces, I was happy to engage them in conversation.

These two young women were probably college aged and they were happy to talk about their religion. When they asked if they could talk to me about Jesus, I said enthusiastically, “absolutely, I have been waiting for you guys.” They handed me a copy of the Watch Tower and I asked them if they had always been Jehovah’s Witnesses or if they converted to it from some other belief system. Both girls told me that they had “always believed in ‘the Truth.’” One of them then added that they have also learned about other religions though. They are “encouraged to do so” she told me.

So next, I asked them what they enjoy most about being a Jehovah’s Witness. The lead girl responded by saying that she really loves the lifestyle. She told me that while it isn’t a law or anything, the Church encourages that they don’t smoke, drink, do drugs, or get tattoos. They are encouraged to keep their bodies pure. I told them that I respected that since I don’t do those things either, but I have nothing against people who do. “So you believe more in the lifestyle than the actual religion itself,” I asked. She told me that she believed in both.

It was at this point that an older Jehovah’s Witness saw that I was engaging these two younger women in conversation and came over to see what was going on. She was probably concerned for their welfare considering that most people would have slammed the door in their faces and here I was talking to them. I am sure it became clear to this woman that I was not threatening at all and we were having a very polite and friendly conversation.

I started to address my questions to the older woman now. I asked her why she believed. She told me that she believed in the Bible because it had been handed down unchanged for 2000 years. I quickly informed her that wasn’t true. I told her that the Bible has changed quite a lot since 2000 years ago and pretty much gave her a quick summery of Bart Ehrman’s book, “Misquoting Jesus.”

I turned to the younger women and told them in a pretty enthusiastic tone that the great parable in which Jesus says “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” wasn’t added to the Bible for hundreds of years later probably by some Catholic Priest.

The older woman didn’t dispute my claim. In fact, I think she actually knew it was true. So she quickly changed the topic to faith. She said that I can put my faith in science if I like, but that she puts her faith in “the Lord.” At this point it was pretty clear to both of us that we weren’t going to convince each other. Now we were playing for an audience. She seemed pretty worried that this conversation might de-convert the two younger women.

She then took out her Bible and started to work out her exit strategy. “Before we go, I want to leave you with this one verse,” she said. I turned to the younger women and told them that I don’t have faith in science. Science is testable. I then got very enthusiastic and told them about a recent study in which scientists were able to uses magnetism to alter people’s morality. I went on to say that lots of people think that morality comes from the soul and yet here is this experiment, which shows that it is all in the brain. “Isn’t that fascinating,” I added. The older woman mumbled that she thought it was scary. I agreed and then repeated that it was also fascinating and tells us a lot about human morality.

The older woman finally came up with another exit strategy. She asked if she could take down my name and the best time to visit again stating that they have to “share the message” with more people. I gave her the information, but she didn’t seem to be writing it down. The lead younger girl said that she enjoyed the conversation and that she liked my name. To me this means that she will remember this conversation and talk about it with her friends. The seeds of doubt have been planted.

In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have let them go so easily. I should have commented on how most people aren’t interested in their message and will probably be hostile toward them and/or slam the door in their faces. Their time might be better spent talking to me. I am open to their message if they can provide adequate evidence. I’m sure the older woman would have hated that. But the younger women seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. They likely have never really had their beliefs challenged before and I wasn’t been hostile or confrontational. We were just having a conversation and an interesting one at that. I do hope they will come back, but I don’t think they will.

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  • Revyloution

    Im interested in seeing how this turns out. She probably was writing your name down. Their church keeps accurate records of the people that respond to them.

    Im betting that you will never be visited by young impressionable witness’ again. They will make sure to send you people who are on their ‘A’ list. To this day, I’ve never been visited by young impressionable kids after the first pair came by.

    Just a FYI, I became very acquainted the JW’s during my life in spite of being a life long atheist. My first encounter was a job painting houses in college. The owner and foreman were JW, and used the work place to actively recruit. I was able to have long discussions with them over their bizarre beliefs. To their credit, they always treated me with respect and kindness.

    I also saw how nasty they can be. I have a friend who was married to a woman who was a non-believer. Over the course of their marriage, she converted to the JW’s. My friend is a hard line atheist, but with their two kids in the balance, he never divorced her. The church made their lives a living hell. They tried so many disgusting underhanded tactics to get him to leave, it made me ill. The good news is both his kids are 16 and 18 and firm non believers. He ‘saved’ them, but at the cost of sleeping under his piano for 10 years.

    The JW’s are a really nasty brand of Christianity. Their punishment for apostasy isn’t death, but it’s nearly as bad. If someone leaves them, everyone needs to treat them as though they are dead.

    Sorry, im kinda rambling. Ive got a kidney infection this week, high fever and im pissing blood. Thank Louis Pasteur for germ theory and Alexander Fleming for antibiotics. Anyways, interesting blog, I bookmarked you and plan to return.

  • existential blues

    I’ve spoken to several JW’s, and when you confront about the question of evil (“Why do bad things happen to good people?”), their stock answer is that, after Jesus returns, God will roll back the clock, as if none of those bad things had ever happened.

    That implies that our time here on earth is nothing more than a stupid game played by a bored, somewhat insane god.

    Next time you meet a JW, ask them about all of their embarrassing failed apocalypse predictions over the past hundred years or so. You’d think that would shake the faith of they devout, but that would imply that they are rational.

    They are not rational.

    They are also Calvinistic, and believe that only a small number of souls will be saved. So then, why do they wasting so much of their time proselytizing?

  • ThinkingShrink

    “I then got very enthusiastic and told them about a recent study in which scientists were able to uses magnetism to alter people’s morality. I went on to say that lots of people think that morality comes from the soul and yet here is this experiment, which shows that it is all in the brain.”

    This is hogwash. At the very least its a grotesque exaggeration filtered through scientifically illiterate reporters. That study http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/03/11/0914826107.abstract?sid=8b9be9af-89aa-4dc2-8cfa-faa40b8f7e16
    detected a small but measurable effect on a Likert-like scale evaluating the degree to which 12 subjects rated intent vs outcome when asked to make moral judgments.

    There was no effect on “morality” which is much broader than asking people to make moral judgments. And the effects were along the lines of switching from strongly agree to moderately agree (in only a few participants) . That somehow magnetism changed people’s moral sentiments is just wrong at every level.

    That there was a weak effect on people’s judgment when people were subjected to 25 minutes of trans-cranial magnetic stimuli to targeted regions of the brain is unsurprising. Disruption of the normal bio-physical, bio-chemical behavior of the brain will often retard cognition.

    Its known that consumption of alcohol impairs logical judgment and critical thinking. You would not dismiss logic as a mere “brain process” on this basis would you? If you did that materialism would be self-defeating as using testability as a criterion of belief would be as arbitrary as accepting faith. There are external standards we use in most forms of judgment, this is as true in science as it is in religion.

    You really should avail yourself of philosophical and scientific literacy if you are going to continue debating religious believers.

    • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

      First off, we were having a quick conversation on my doorstep and not a long drawn out debate. So I gave a quick summery of the article. Second, people’s moral judgments changed as a result at least on a temporary basis. That was the point. Third, logical judgments are a product of the brain and yes alcohol does affect logical decision making. Now, if you want to nitpick that when summarizing my conversion with these 3 JWs that I used the word “morality: instead of “temporary moral judgments” than I’ll just give you that one. I wasn’t debating philosophy with fellow philosophers, I was having a friendly conversation with non-philosophers. The study stands and I stand by my conversation.

    • Revyloution

      Thinking Shrink said:
      “There was no effect on “morality”

      From the paper he cited:
      “..caused participants to judge attempted harms as less morally forbidden and more morally permissible.”

      I think he isn’t very good at the whole ” philosophical and scientific literacy” thing.

      If he want’s to come waltzing into a blog with educated atheists, he better avail himself of some basic reading skills.

    • existential blues

      When people have strokes or other types of physical damage to their brain, a shift in not just disposition and behavioral boundaries, but also moral boundaries, is sometimes observed.

      Maybe the soul goes rogue when it’s deprived of blood.

  • Jim

    I should have commented on how most people aren’t interested in their message and will probably be hostile toward them and/or slam the door in their faces.

    Actually, you did exactly the right thing by letting them leave on a positive note. It’s easy to be biased against those who come off negatively – not so much to those with a positive approach.

    I’m the kind of person that reinforces their belief that we’re just grumpy old bastards. So it’s a good thing I live in a no-soliciting neighborhood.

    Excellent post, btw.

  • http://www.myspace.com/diana_graves Diana

    I get an old man coming by my house about once a month. I only opened the door for him once and I told him I was an atheist. He started in on his whole jesus bs and I assured him that he was wasting his time but he pushed his silly papers on me so I took them and tossed them in the recycle bin once he left…but he keeps coming back!

    However I adopted a dog a few months ago and she’s very protective of her home :) I love big dogs!

    I also loved your conversation. I wish I had the focus to talk to the old man like that.

  • tralf

    I live down the street from a JW’s church. Do what I do. Tell them you are a Druid, and not to walk on the grass, the high heels make it scream.


    • existential blues

      My friend lived right next to a JW church. When they had services, it looked like a scene out of the 50′s — except the minister was black.