Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Been There, Done That, Don't Need To Do It Again.

Well, that was fun.  And by fun, I mean excruciatingly sad.  I just got into it with a Jehovah's Witness.  This is the first time this has happened since I left.  The first and last time.  For the record, she started it.

I went to the library to pick up some holds.  Another lady reaches there at the same time and we both lament the fact that the library is closed and doesn't open until the afternoon.  I get ready to turn and go and she says, "Well, I've got something you can read in the meantime."  She unfurls a stack of Watchtower magazines and brings my attention to the cover article, "What Will Happen to Bad People?" or something to that effect. Ya know, nice uplifting stuff about how Jehovah's Witnesses can't wait until the end of the world comes so all the "bad people" (aka you and me) will be destroyed and they can live eternally ever after.  Ya, you can see this is going to go well.

Now, I've been approached a number of times by JW's since leaving their flock five years ago and each time I walk away.  I was prepared to do this here too, but she wasn't willing to let me go so easily.  I put my hand up, say, "I'm not interested," and turn to walk away.

She calls to my back, "What?  You're not interested in the Bible?"

Wrong move, lady.  Wrong move.  

"No, actually I'm not interested in cults," I reply.

And that was the beginning of the end.  Right there in that moment, her back went up and the emotions flared.

"We're not a cult!!!" she screams. "Cults have a man as their leader.  We don't have a man."

"You have a group of old men in Brooklyn who run the show.  It's no different.  Listen, we're not going to be able to have a decent discussion here.  You're not even aware of your own history."

"I know my history."

"No, you know the history the Watchtower organization has fed you in that green Proclaimer's book.  It's white-washed and inaccurate.  If you want to know your real history, you should read Apocalypse Delayed."

"That's an apostate book!"  Now, that surprised me.  She obviously knew the book well enough to know it was written by someone who'd been excommunicated by the JW's.

I looked at her and smiled.  The word apostate makes me particularly happy.  Because I'm one.  Well, from her standpoint I'd be one, but she doesn't know that.  Secretly it delights me that she's carrying on a conversation with me when she wouldn't if she knew who I really was.

"Can you please define apostate for me?"  I ask her.

"An apostate is someone who speaks against the organization."

"So, you mean to tell me that you're part of an organization that would kick out someone who publishes an accurate history of the Jehovah's Witnesses just because it differs from what they'd like you to know?"

"It's not accurate.  It's lies."  She's really getting heated up now.

"Have you read it?  How would you know?" I ask.

She avoids answering that and jumps into why JW's shun apostates and attempts to back it with scriptures from the Bible.  The conversation goes on for another five minutes or so.  Honestly, it's not even worth getting into what we discussed.  Suffice it to say, we bantered back and forth, her becoming more and more angry and I becoming more and more calm.

She then accuses me of not listening to her.  "You have two ears and one mouth.  That means you should keep quiet and listen more!"

I laugh.  "I'm happy to listen.  But you aren't answering my questions."

"I am answering them!  But you're a know-it-all!  You think you know everything! I bet your whole life is a mess because you think you know everything about everything."

I smile.  And wait.  I know what's coming next...wait for it...wait for it..."Jesus said that in the "last days" there would be people like you who would mock the faith.  You're a MOCKER!!!  That's what you are!  A MOCKER!!!  I'm not talking to you anymore!"

And there it is. 

Granted, I'm sure I did a lousy job of using logic to make my points.  (Didn't I say the other day that you can't use logic to persuade someone out of a belief that they didn't use logic to get into?)  And I meandered into too many topics.  There was part of me that wanted to gush out every single lie I'd ever been told by the Watchtower organization.  And I know that that overwhelmed her.  My bad. 

And I'm sure I wasn't listening as intently as I could have been, mostly because I knew what she was going to say before she said it; because, of course, I was her.  She gave me the same tired arguments I used to make as a JW when someone questioned me on my faith.  The only difference between how she handled things and how I would have handled them as a JW is that I would've remained calm and not started throwing out insults.  When I was a JW, I didn't see the purpose in hailing down 'fire and brimstone' on anyone.  Make no mistake, I was an arrogant and self-assured JW, and assumed that if you treated me with mockery you were vulture-fodder come Armageddon, but I kept that to myself; no point in pissing people off if you were of the hope that maybe at some point in the future they might change their mind and see the "error of their ways" and come looking for the truth you were selling.

It's interesting to stand and talk to someone and feel like you're talking to yourself.  I knew she was another separate person, but it felt very much like I was talking to myself from six years ago, when I was still a devout, unquestioning Jehovah's Witness.  I felt like I was arguing with the bits of myself from that point in my history.  It was odd.  By the end, I just wanted to hug her and tell her, "I'm so sorry.  I wish you could see this for what it is.  But you won't.  And it will hurt you."

Well, lesson learned.  I have no intention of ever having that conversation with any active JW again.  The saddest thing is that she'll go home tonight, and rather than pause and think about the things I said, she'll say a prayer to Jehovah about how thankful she is that he gave her the opportunity today to "bear witness".  And she'll wake up tomorrow with a renewed sense of zeal that she was able to bear up against such a blatant assault on "The Truth", and she'll feel vindicated because she was able to face being persecuted "for the faith".

How do I know she'll feel this way?  Because I would've felt the same way. 

tall penguin


Loki said...

Well played, Penguin, well played.

I'm interested to know, though, how do you deal with the urge to shine some light on this darkness for her?

Granted, having been there yourself, you know very well her prepared responses and defenses, but at the same time, knowing the system from the inside, wouldn't you also know the loopholes? And knowing those loopholes, are you not able to sneak in some undeniable truth that would send her brain into a thought process that would actually make her analyze what she says, rather than just blindly regurgitating memorized information?

You said yourself that it makes to sense to use rational thought to debate a system which doesn't use rational thought to begin with, but isn't there something illogical - perhaps spiritual - that you can say, that would make her question the validity of the "spirituality" of the system?

tall penguin said...

"...isn't there something illogical - perhaps spiritual - that you can say, that would make her question the validity of the "spirituality" of the system?"

Probably. But I have neither the intelligence nor the desire to figure out what that might be. I look at it this way...if someone as intelligent as Richard Dawkins can't persuade even nominal Christians to give up God, what chance do I have of parting a staunch JW from their beloved cult?

Perhaps I should have just asked the question that was asked of me that made it all begin to crumble: Is there anything that you could find out about your beliefs that would make you question them? If the answer is no, case closed. If the answer is yes or maybe, then perhaps there's a chance.

Sadly, I didn't think of that at the moment. I was caught unawares. At the end of the day, people believe what they want to believe. Who am I to part them from their deeply held illusions? Do I have some duty to do so? I used to think so. Not anymore. As long as they keep their beliefs out of public policy and away from me, they can do what they want. I'm out of the saving business.

Loki said...

I wasn't even thinking of it in terms of "saving" or anything... maybe more in terms of irritating.

I love walking by the Scientology building on Yonge street, and if someone tries to lure me to come in or take a piece of their literature, i always ask "Have you found Jesus?" - just to eff with their head.

Umlud said...

I've been tempted more recently to try a similar tack as what Loki suggests:

Faced with a JW, Mormon, or Christian (of some cut), I ask them sincerely if they wish to discover the wisdom of Buddha, the power of Vishnu, or the divinity of the Japanese Emperor -- a direct descendant of the sun goddess.

While you can't necessarily fight faith with logic, you might be able to unbalance the mental gyrations with some counter-illogic, like to fighting tops (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1K8opYTytZk): eventually, the circular reasoning of one side will cause the other to falter.

Of course, the question then becomes what to do once the faltering begins...

Dave said...

Arguing with someone in a cult is like trying to engage a mousetrap in a discussion about the morality of killing mice.

Like you, I speak from experience. 20 years a JW automaton.

Andrew, York said...

Of course, if you admitted your ex-JW status up front, wouldn't she have been bound to shun you, thereby shutting up and leaving?

Otherwise, I'm with Umlud on this one. Confronted with agressive JWs I generally resort to quoting Papal Encyclicals (I prefer the original Latin), thus demonstrating my flagrantly "Papist" attitudes and getting them to back off.

tall penguin said...

You guys are hilarious. Here, my reaction is all about actually trying to help this woman and you guys are looking for ways to irritate her. Of course, I see your point...maybe meeting her illogic with a little of my own would've made more of an impact. I'm sure it still would've ended with me being doomed as The Great Mocker. :)

Umlud, that spinning top video is AWESOME!!! I could do that all day! What fun!

"Of course, the question then becomes what to do once the faltering begins..."

Yes. This is the main reason I've never tried to "free" my JW mother. Honestly, she'd probably lose the plot if she came to realize that her belief structure was junk. And guess who'd have to clean up the mess? Ya, I don't have the fortitude for such a thing. She got herself into it, she "needs" it on some level and she can keep it.

"Arguing with someone in a cult is like trying to engage a mousetrap in a discussion about the morality of killing mice."

Well said, sir. Well said.

"Of course, if you admitted your ex-JW status up front, wouldn't she have been bound to shun you, thereby shutting up and leaving?"

Yes, but I wouldn't give her the satisfaction. That I'm an "apostate" is their box, not mine. I refuse to bow to their boxes, even if it would be to my momentary advantage.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss the impact one can have using argumentation/logic with a JW (or other fundyesque character). I remember when i was a JW I had a return visit -- I still remember his name, Tim M. -- who was an evangelical apologist who attacked some cherished beliefs of mine as a JW. He even showed me photocopies of Watchtowers from the 1960's that clearly pointed to 1975 as being, yes quite possibly ("but we didn't say definitely!"), the year Armageddon would come. He also made a few other points about "false prophecy" and such that, although I rationalized them away at the time, unquestionably had an impact a few years later when I was pursuing other doubts that I was having about the faith. For me it was as if doubts were simply filed away in a vast cabinet in my mind. Once someone seriously questions something, it doesn't go away. It just gets filed for possible later use. Or not.

"Seeds of doubt" can sometimes enter a person's mind and lie dormant for years. Who knows if and when what you say will have an impact. Yes, as long as it lands on the "fine soil." Haha.


tall penguin said...

I woke up this morning and thought that it would've been funny if I'd said to this JW woman that I was a Pastafarian and that I would pray that the Flying Spaghetti Monster bless her with His Noodly Appendage.

Oh, the things that come to us in hindsight.

tall penguin said...

Brad: "fine soil."

Bah! You said "fine soil." It never fails to amaze me how JW's managed to co-opt so much language as their own.

""Seeds of doubt" can sometimes enter a person's mind and lie dormant for years. Who knows if and when what you say will have an impact."

I can see this, yes. My wonder though is what the mechanism is that brings those doubts back to mind. I would bet it's initially an emotional trigger rather than a logical one. Of course, I have no way to prove this other than anecdotal evidence from reading thousands of posts on ex-jw boards. And we both know that the plural of anecdote is not data.

I really wish more research was done on cultic movements and those who leave and how they manage to do so.

Umlud said...

Have you read this recent entry on Pharyngula re: JWs vs. atheists


Bill P said...

I know where you are coming from with this one. I had a similar struggle with my wife after I abruptly quit. I finally asked her, "What would it take to make you realize that this religion is false?" She said that if the leaders were in it for money she'd be out. I explained that they couldn't afford to quit and leave all the prestige and job security behind. BUT there was a leader in the past, Rutherford, that lived in a secret mansion (that the Proclaimers book forgot to mention) and drove around fancy cars during the depression. I printed out all the Watchtower CD information about Beth Sarim and then all the wikipedia stuff about it. I showed her this was only the tip of the iceburg. She never read it, but she was convinced that she was being lied to. We are still together. We will save our nuclear family from all this stuff. But all in all you never know if this magical new system will be appealling to my children? Will they shun me? Who knows? I focus on the secret history aspects just like you did in this conversation. Funny thing is that while I was very versed in the fake history, not very many JWs are so who knows if this will work?

Here's to mansions and Miracle Wheat!