I’ve Been Ministered To; It Didn’t Work

JW Training solo atheistMy front door is a ranchslider, so when two women knocked on it yesterday I could see they were missionaries. I answered it anyway, and let the one who did the talking give her spiel.

I told her I thought Seventh Day Adventists were evil with all their rubbish talk of the end of the world going around frightening vulnerable people.

“We’re Jehovah’s Witnesses,” she said.

I laughed, but I was losing already, so I couldn’t let her go.

“They’re just as bad,” I said. (So much for being master of the brilliant comeback.)

“Why do you think that,” she asked, sounding like she was really interested in what I had to say. Her head was tilted to the side and everything.

I talked about this wonderful world we have being divided by religious people, and we didn’t need belief in a supernatural being. I wasn’t at my best – it was still morning after all, and I wasn’t prepared – so I’m afraid I can’t say I gave a brilliant argument for atheism. I made my point though.

And you’ll never guess what she said next. <— That was sarcasm, because I bet you can.

“Have you had a bad experience?”

Classic! Now this has never actually happened to me in real life. It’s happened on Twitter, but not in the real world. It was quite cool actually to be able to tell her that I’d never had a bad experience with religion, that many of the people I loved were religious, and that my decision had nothing to do with any negative occurrence in my life.

That surprised her, and although she did her best to hide it, she clearly didn’t really believe me. We continued to chat, and every argument she came up with I was able to counter. There was quite a bit about how do you know what is right, and who decides what is right without the Bible. She conceded every point I made, but at the end still said we needed the Bible to tell us what’s right. It was very frustrating.

“You’ve obviously read the Bible, and know it well,” she said. “Why is that?”

I told her I thought everybody should read it as it’s an extremely important book in our culture, (More barely concealed amazement) that a lot of the sayings we use everyday came from the Bible, and many words became part of our language via the Bible.

Throughout our conversation so far she was having trouble with her right eye, and it was obviously very uncomfortable and distracting for her. She seemed to have got some mascara in it, though I couldn’t see it when I looked for it. So at this point I went and got my makeup wipes. I invited them both in and we sat at the dining table while she fixed her eye, and we continued talking.

Forget scienceThe conversation turned to evolution – she asked me if I believed we evolved or were created. I told her (naturally) that I thought we’d evolved – that I accepted the scientific evidence for that.

“You know,” she opined, “there’s actually a lot more evidence that we were created.”

“No,” I said, “there isn’t. There’s a lot more evidence that we evolved, and only someone who doesn’t understand evolution could possibly say otherwise.”

“There are some scientists who’ve come to believe in God and accept that we were created after looking at the evidence for a creator.”

“Yes, there are. but most don’t. The vast majority of scientists accept evolution.”

And so we went back and forth for a bit, and she (who did tell me her name just before she left, but I’ve never been good at remembering names) moved onto Adam and the Garden of Eden. She talked about how Adam had sinned by eating the tree that God had told him not to, and so we all inherited that sin. That gave me a heap of scope of course.

I started by using an argument I’ve heard Dave Silverman of American Atheists use: God is omniscient, he knows everything, so by putting that tree in the Garden of Eden he knew Adam would eat from it. He set him up. It was all down to God. Adam didn’t even know what sin was, and he hadn’t been told the consequences, but God did know so it was his fault, not Adam’s.

That one actually hit home. Yes, I know, she’ll chat about it with her coreligionists and they will come up with a reason why it’s not God’s fault, but I had a moment.

Then I argued that even if you accept Adam was wrong and he had to be punished, it’s wrong that not only should he suffer for the rest of his life, but so should all of his descendants for the rest of eternity. They did nothing wrong. If your child does something wrong, you don’t suddenly send your child’s child off to time out at some point in the future for their parent’s misbehaviour forty years earlier, for example.

She handed me her Bible at that point, asked me to read Romans 1:20

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Perhaps she was making a point, but it was lost on me. Maybe she just wanted to make sure I could touch it without bursting into flame?

The “fact” we inherited Adam’s sin seemed to be a point she really wanted to get across, so I went into the evidence that we didn’t descend from only two people – that the smallest number our planet ever got down to  was around 12,000. She seemed a bit shocked by that one, and read some of her Bible to me.

James 4:8: Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

I told her God didn’t create man, man created God. I checked Google and got the full verse:

James 4:8: Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

No wonder she didn’t want me reading that one myself.

JW Rulers“So,” she said, “how do you explain evil?” Then went on at great length about all the evil in the world, and how we can’t get the the world’s leaders, but God listens to all our prayers.

“So,” I said, “God has this plan for how the whole of creation is going to go, then you pray for something, and he changes his mind?”

I got the woo talk then about positive vibes making a difference.

“Do you really believe,” I continued, “that He checks some prayer-meter and thinks He’ll change his plan because enough people have prayed for something.”

I think I scored a (temporary) point there too.

We’d been going for a good 45 minutes at this stage, and I’d been letting her off big time really. These strangers turn up on my doorstep pushing their myths as if they were the truth. I can handle them, but there are plenty who are vulnerable to that kind of bovine manure.  So I turned the conversation to defellowshipping.

I told her that I thought the practice was appalling and that any religion that made its members choose the church over their family was disgusting. She tried to defend the practice and said it was a free choice. Nothing I said made a dent in her rote answers, but she was clearly unsettled. The older lady who was with her, who hadn’t said a word throughout was watching her like a hawk.

Then I moved onto children. She was quite excited by this, and thrilled to tell me that children are encouraged to take a full role. I told her I thought it was awful that the children were denied so much of the world (they are not allowed to go to university, for example). She again proudly quoted the Bible about teaching children while they’re young. I told her that children naturally accept what parents who love them tell them, whether it’s true or not, but that if religious instruction was left until they were older most wouldn’t believe it. I didn’t go full-on, which would have been getting her to justify all the children who died because of Jehovah’s Witness practices re medical care, and whose pictures were proudly displayed on the cover of their magazine Awake! as martyrs, but I made my point.

We’d been going for a good hour, and our conversation reached it’s natural end. She told me that even though I was an atheist, I was obviously a Good Person. Yes, I got the Christian Seal of Approval. I was probably supposed to be pleased and grateful, but if I’m looking for a character witness, I’m darn sure I won’t be going to the nearest Kingdom Hall. The woman was very friendly as she left, but still the older woman she was with still said nothing to me. In fact she never even looked at me throughout. Looking back it was rather weird.

Anyway, I plan to read up on the Jehovah’s Witnesses now in preparation for their next visit.

It’ll probably be the Seventh Day Adventists who turn up.

32 Responses to “I’ve Been Ministered To; It Didn’t Work”

  1. I find it difficult to get past their smugly arrogant condescension while resisting the urge to punch them.

    • I find it depends on who turns up. Last time the Mormons came they even offered to mow my lawn for me even though I told them they’d come to the wrong house. (My lawn mowing guy was a few days late turning up.) Although I have a major problem with the religion, the young men they send around are always exemplary in their behaviour.

      The Seventh Day Adventists pi$$ me off the most. Here at least they bring children with them, which makes the whole thing very difficult. The last thing you want to do is anything to reinforce what they’ve told their kids, but it’s hard getting rid of them without being rude or at least dismissive.

  2. Yakaru says:

    They rang my doorbell too yesterday. I was almost going to write that maybe they were having an “international action day”, but then I remembered every day is international action day for them.

    I don’t know much at all about these guys and have never spoken to them. I might have let them in yesterday for some cheap entertainment, but I was busy with other things.

    God wrote:
    “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

    So that’s why Christians are always so skittish about atheists — we really are lumped in with the sinners.

    I guess the other woman was either a trainee or a supervisor. I’ve often thought that 99% of their proselytizing is really aimed at reinforcing their own brainwashing, and 1% trying to rope in newbies.

    • Ken says:

      Technically, the saved are sinners too, just ones who have seen the light. You just can’t escape original sin. I think it was Hitch who said that this was probably the worst doctrine of all and I tend to agree.

    • I think it might have been an international thing – Prince was a JW, and I would bet a lot that they’re hoping to cash in on curiosity about religion along with his death.

  3. Ken says:

    Wow. I’ve always wanted to do the same, but then react negatively and just say I’m not interested when put on the spot without notice, either because it’s an inconvenient time, or more likely I’m just chicken. Why don’t they ever knock when I’ve just gotten fired up reading some atheist trope? Must be the work of the devil.

    • I didn’t plan it, but I’ve got to say I actually enjoyed it. Although there are religious people amongst my family and friends, they’re also largely secular and there’s not a lot we disagree on. I found it really interesting to talk to a real person whose life experience was so different from my own. There was a lot we discussed that I haven’t written about – she’d been well primed, and I was glad I had some of the knowledge I’ve gained from writing here to contradict her.

  4. DFM-LASVEGAS says:

    I get them all the time coming to the door trying to convert me, I Kinda miss the good old days when they only came by trying to sell me a vacuum cleaner or the Encyclopaedia Britannica
    I kinda like to see their faces when I tell them that I don’t believe in any of that nonsense, and then I’ve been an atheist for 40 years , and the only Way I will believe what they are saying is if they show me actual evidence. I usually start off with the irrefutable statement that they use logic and reason to do everything else in their day-to-day life and yet the most important thing in life we are told have “faith”
    My favorite thing to do now is ( Sam Harris’s book the end of faith is now 15 years old and is even more relevant today, I have probably read that book 20 times)
    , I tell the people at the door that it is MY Bible.
    I have an Amazon account and if you look up his book the end of faith you can get a copy of it for like $.50 so I bought 30 copies of the end of faith.
    Every time A Religious person comes to the door, at the end of the conversation I hand them a copy for free to read, and I invite them to call me if they have any questions about it arguments and rationality. The look on their faces is worth what I paid for each copy.
    I have never received a call back from any of them, but the same one has never been to my house twice. I find that a good copy of Sam Harris book “the end of faith” kind of acts like a “no pest strip”.

    • Sorry it took so long for me to get around to getting your comment through moderation. I’ve been asleep in NZ. 🙂

      Good idea on End of Faith! The only trouble is to get a whole lot of cheap copies I’d have to get them posted from the States, which is quite expensive. I was tempted to give her my copy of Why Evolution is True as I’ve also got the audio book, and there’s a new one with a cool new cover out and it would give me an excuse to buy it. My lounge/dining room is full of bookcases, and right in her eye-line over my right shoulder was the section where I keep The God Delusion, The End of Faith, God is Not Great, Faith vs Fact, The Portable Atheist, and several other similar books.

  5. rickflick says:

    I’ve never let them over the threshold. I don’t trust myself. I seethe with anger when I see them coming up the driveway. I look around for a heavy object with sharp edges. They are usually a white lady and a person of color. After I tell them, no thanks, I don’t want any, and they turn to leave, I wonder if they didn’t take a wrong turn. Maybe they really meant to visit those under educated, low information, folks down in the trailer park. How could they think any high school graduate could buy in? Amazing, but they sometimes do.

  6. paxton marshall says:

    Yet I do admire them for their pacifism.

    • Ken says:

      Sure and probably other things too, if we look harder, but it’s a shame they can’t employ any morality without the belief it comes from that book.

      • paxton marshall says:

        I agree Ken, in that it’s delusional to think that any book has the final authority on morality. Like all religionists, the JWs are selective on what they emphasize and what they ignore. But I think that the Bible is the source of significant developments in the history of human morality. Concepts of social justice developed in the Hebrew prophets and developed most fully in the synoptic gospels, while often observed primarily in their breach, have guided our moral evolution to the present day. I’m atheist on resurrection, virgin birth, and all supernatural claims about Jesus, and agnostic about whether there even was a person as portrayed in the gospels, or if he was a purely fictional character. But stripped of all the accreted nonsense, as Thomas Jefferson did, the gospels provide some pretty good guidelines on how we should behave to each other. I like to think of Jesus as the archetypal SJW. Or maybe the original authoritarian liberal (who may not really have existed).

        • Ken says:

          I’m not an authority, but I’ve read many times that there are no independent references to Jesus, i.e. none outside the bible. I have also read that the gnostic christians told educational stories of someone called Jesus hundreds of years prior to when the famous one was supposed to have lived. And given the studies that show the loads of specifics christianity borrowed from other religions and I think it is safe to say he probably never existed.

        • Yiam Cross says:

          The bible is rehashed from previous religions and so is the source of very little if anything at all, let alone significant developments in human morality. In fact its preachings on how to deal with homosexuals, slaves and victims of rape might be considered to be significant develpments in human immorality. The bible is an evil text representing the human creation of an evil god and deserves to be consigned to the bonfire of human mistakes along with every other religious text. We don’t need a vengeful and violent god to tell us what do do which is lucky really as there is no such thing.

  7. Martin Fuller says:

    I do not have a problem with them – they are just misguided and need our compassion.

    • That’s what I keep thinking Martin to keep myself being friendly towards them. If it was the leaders of the organisation, I don’t think I could do it, but she actually was a nice person. She’s been trained to believe this stuff from her earliest childhood, from our conversation I’m pretty sure she lost her husband and at least one child via defellowshipping, and because of the religion she’s never had access to information or education to enable her to make an informed choice. She wasn’t stupid, just misinformed about a lot of stuff. I see the organisation as evil, but not necessarily the people in it.

  8. Tom Snow says:

    I didn’t know they still went door-to-door; maybe they only do houses and not apartments? Only people who come knocking on my door are shady people selling magazine subscriptions.

    Starting last summer I noticed a new trend: they have their people stand around in big cities’ downtown areas and airports, next to a rack of magazines and pamphlets. They don’t say anything to anyone passing by, they wait for people to approach them, and of course almost no one ever does.

    • It probably varies from place to place, and there are probably laws affecting what they can do in some places too. In Russia I think Witnessing gets a jail term, though that’s only something I’ve heard – I haven’t actually researched whether it’s true. I wouldn’t like my chances witnessing somewhere like Palestine either. Perhaps JWs have been physically threatened or worse in some places and they’ve felt the need to retreat to airports.

      I’ve never been offered a magazine subscription by someone going door-to-door, though I was tempted by a set of Encyclopedia Britannicus about 25 years ago.

      • rickflick says:

        About 40 years ago, give or take, I was visited by a lovely young woman selling magazines. I was delighted by her ambition and invited her in. She and I chatted for quite a while, but I have such strong sales resistance, I was never in danger of buying anything. I was pleased with myself. I offered her spaghetti for lunch, which I had just made for myself, and she and I chatted more over lunch. Well after a while, I sent her on her way with kindness. But, I had not bought any magazine subscriptions…not even National Geographic, which I wouldn’t actually have minded ordering, and this was a generation before Rupert Murdoch. I was just so uncomfortable about being manipulated into buying anything. As the years went by, I began to regret my decision. I could have ordered just one subscription and somehow given her a little personal blessing. She was not the corporate giant publishing company. She was just a pawn in the game. Why couldn’t I have just given a little and let her have a few dollars for college (or whatever she would do with it). I’ve felt guilty about that for 40 years now. Occasionally I go back to that time and fix it so everything works out fine. But, pretty quickly it reverts to regret.

        • Ken says:

          But you did give a little by giving her lunch and that seems to me more than enough. 40 years is a long time. I can’t help but think your regret is for a different sort of opportunity lost!

        • Yakaru says:

          I have things like that too that still haunt me…. I wonder if she is sitting somewhere thinking “That job really sucked. There was only this one decent young fellow who gave me lunch one day, he was cool. The others either shooed me away or patronized me by buying one subscription out of charity….”

        • I understand why you feel that way. (Not saying you should, of course!) There’s an incident that happened when I was eight, and every time I remember it, I still feel sick about it. It wasn’t that bad, but I wasn’t nice, and it was wrong. I keep hoping that one day I’ll come across the girl again so I can apologize to her.

          • paxton marshall says:

            My most vivid childhood memories are of when I was mean to someone. Sibling, friend, parent. Guilt is a powerful emotion. Religions use it to manipulate people. Basically, most Christian doctrine teaches us that we are born a wretched sinner, and without the forgiveness of Christ, you will die the same. Guilt can be useful, as in “I’d better call my mother or I’ll feel guilty”, but it can reach morbid levels. Most of us have been treated badly also, so we must forgive others, and forgive ourselves also.

          • Ken says:

            Yes, so important to forgive oneself. And given the science is telling us more and more that free will is a myth, that actually, we couldn’t have chosen otherwise at that moment, there’s even more reason to forgive, to concentrate on the learning instead of the guilt.

      • Tom Snow says:

        Google “mag crew,” and prepare to read something depressing. These shady organizations get young people in their teens and 20s to travel all over the USA selling their scam. They usually tell me that I don’t have to order magazines for myself, I can just have them sent to places like hospitals or military bases in Afghanistan. One who did talk me into buying magazines said they would specifically go to Christus Santa Rosa, a hospital here in San Antonio. After he left and I had the realization I might have gotten scammed, I called Christus Santa Rosa and asked them if they had ever heard of the company he said he worked for, and they hadn’t.

        So now I don’t buy what they’re selling. I do feel a little bad about that because they’re not scammers themselves, but I hate feeling like I’ve been had.

        • I’ve never come across that particular scam. Sounds awful.

          I get really abusive to the ones on the phone though – the ones that say they’re from “Windows” and need you to do something to your computer. I ask them how they feel making their living stealing money from people who don’t realize they’re being lied to, where their morals are, etc. I call them thieves, burglars, liars and ask them all sorts of questions like, “How would you feel if someone did this to your grandmother?” as well as more pointed ones about themselves.

          I’ve been targeted a few times via e-mail too, but they get ignored because I’m too scared to touch them in case there’s a virus or something attached.

  9. rickflick says:

    I see what you’re saying, and perhaps that’s so. But, I suspect, over the decades the meaning for me has taken on meaning that is hard to express. Maybe something about the passage of time itself.

  10. Jason says:

    When I was 12, during the school holidays, I was enjoying an introspective morning. I came to the conclusion that I needed to be more open-minded – I shouldn’t change the conversation, switch channels, stop reading a book because I was losing interest – I should be more willing to hear things out.

    The doorbell rang, I opened the door and there was a Christian book salesman (I’m not sure of the denomination). If I had any vulnerability to mistaking random chance for deeper meaning, this would have been the moment of my conversion; just as I had decided to be more open-minded here arrived God’s own messenger!

    Remembering the promise I had just made to myself I asked to see what he had. He happily showed me a book he said was about evolution. Of course it was really about creationism. I asked what evolution was – unfortunately at age 12 I still had not heard of it. He gave me a very honest answer. My jaw hit the ground and I started firing off questions and he started back-pedalling. But when he saw me holding out money (I misunderstood and thought I was buying a book on evolution), he shut up and sold me the book with less enthusiasm than when he first showed it to me. He probably doesn’t realise how much his effort backfired and how significant a role it played in my deconversion.

    The book of course is rubbish. Anonymously written, it still sits on my shelf of books on religion next to the equally ‘anonymous’ Bible and Qu’ran on one side and the alphabetically-first Aayan Hirsi Ali on the other.

    PS – not sure if anyone else mentioned it above, but I heard the recently passed-away Prince was also a JW and would visit door-to-door – imagine opening your door to that!

    • I must admit I’ve never actually read a book that purports to explain Creationism as a scientific theory. I’d like to, but at the same time, I don’t want to give any money to those that write them. Apparently Richard Dawkins receives them unsolicited on a regular basis – you’d have to be pretty far gone to believe you could win him over.

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