Sunday, June 8, 2008

My Visit from Jehovah's Witnesses

Yesterday I got my wish to have a discussion with two Jehovah's Witnesses who came to my door. There was a man and a woman. Only the man chose to argue with me. I warned them that I was a devout atheist, but this only served to spawn the discussion with a comment on my use of the word devout. I explained that Christians often say that atheism is just another kind of religion, complete with its own dogmatism and closed-mindedness. I freely admit that I am just as passionate about my position as most theists are about theirs, so I have adopted the term to indicate that. But I do try not be be dogmatic or closed-minded.

So this guy basically expounded the JW philosophy, without really trying to convert me. Theirs may be a brighter, more peaceful version of Christianity. They seem to be Bible literalists, but want to separate themselves from other denominations which have distorted, modified, and misinterpreted the Bible to the ends of power, greed, and war. But of course they have their own interpretation, which seems to me to be no less distorted, even though it seems to allow for a somewhat more modern liberal morality, as well as for modern science, including evolution. They do the latter by saying that we are still in the middle of the seventh "day" of creation, and God is resting.

I tried to get him to say what made him think that the Bible was literally true, but he wouldn't. I enumerated all of the usual sources of faith, with the counter-arguments for each. He seemed to politely agree with all of my arguments, but only kept trying to read from the Bible that he had with him, claiming that each passage was marvelously accurate. I tried to point out in each case how he was twisting the interpretation, and that there was no real scientific accuracy. I even pointed out the circularity in Bible belief, that if you start out convinced, then you can find interpretations that justify your conviction.

One of the passages that he read to show how the Bible was scientifically accurate was this: the water comes down from heaven as rain and snow, and it waits to nourish the plants before it goes back up to heaven. The idea was supposed to be that the Bible is teaching about the water cycle, which was not well understood at the time. I think it is safe to say that this is not only inaccurate (the water doesn't really wait to evaporate), but it is a stretch to think that such a statement could not have been written by ordinary people over 2000 years ago.

In addition to other reinterpretations, the JW seem to have a different view of heaven, hell, and revelations. They seem to think there is a heaven, but that it is reserved for a very select few, which does not even include themselves. Apparently there either is no hell, or it is not such a bad place. We didn't discuss this. They do, however, believe there is some sort of rapture-like event coming soon. The difference is that the earth, rather then becoming hell, will become a paradise, and be unified and ruled by heaven and the few people who are taken there to be angels.

So, despite being non-confrontational and mildly interesting, the discussion was somewhat disappointing. I really want to understand the source of people's faith, because I think that this is the key to any hope of breaking it down. And this guy succeeded in keeping this well hidden.