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Advice For Ex-Jehovah's Witnesses: How To Handle It When They Try To Convert You
Or How To Make Them Go Away Without That Proud Grin On Their Face ... Or Killing Anybody Either
8/16/07Updated on 11/9/07
Yeah, I know the drill. We've all been there. It doesn't matter if it's only been days since you missed your last meeting or decades. There's always one more person who drops by, probably unannounced, because they "thought they'd see how you were doing." Except both of you know that's a crock. They're really here to convert you, to drag you back kicking and screaming into the same beast you already left. They need to get their time going ... you know ... so they'll only waste a few minutes on meaningless small talk before revealing the truth behind their clever deception. Gasp! What? You're here to talk to me about your religion and how much I suck for not believing in it? Why, you tricked me! Well played. Bravo! Then they drone on and on until they run out of convert-you juice, which just happens to be about an hour so they can add it to their field service report. Good times, eh?
If you're like most ex-Witnesses, you probably use one of two strategies whenever this occurs:
You just sorta stand there shamefully, still as you can be, and hope they'll go away. Since their vision is motion-based, maybe they'll think you snuck out or something and leave. What you don't realize is that they also have heat sensing glands just beneath their eyes. Also, they can hear your ragged breathing. Your sweat permeates the air like an oh-so-sweet perfume. It smells like victory.
You stand up for your decision and explain your reasons for leaving and how much happier you are now. You might even rage at them, insisting that you are rubber and they are glue. But it doesn't work, does it? They just sorta stare at you pityingly and say things like, "Yeah, but anyway, we both know it's The Truth..." or "You seem so unhappy since you betrayed Jehovah's love. You know Armageddon's coming, right? Just thought I'd remind you. Cause you're screwed."
Fun, huh? You know they'll be calling their buds up tonight to brag about how they totally pantsed you. Even if it's total crap. You can just see them sitting in their easy chair as they shake their heads and giggle like schoolgirls do when they talk about boys. Still, they were sure lucky to find you in a fighting mood. They squeezed you for three whole hours of service time and they only had to do half the work! Yippee for them! Meanwhile, your self esteem is in the toilet. Why is it so hard to stand up for yourself?
As you may have guessed, neither approach is the right way to hold your own. Why not let the Atheist Geek take a stab at helping you out with a few pointers?
Why The Usual Methods Never, Ever Work (So Stop It Already!)
I wrote about their true motives for forcing their beliefs on us in another article. I explained that their motives are largely selfish and that they are ultimately seeking satisfaction for themselves at your expense. I told you that when they go into that I'm-Witnessing-to-you-now-so-just-shut-up-and-listen mode, they aren't really there to have a conversation. They are there to talk at you - not to you or with you - so they can feel better about themselves and their beliefs while also scoring points with the big "J" at your expense. They may appear to be talking with you because they ask questions (occasionally) and even invite you to tell them your crazy, mixed up excuses for leaving the Edenic Watchtower Society. But it's all a ruse to get you to open up so they can knock down your objections one at a time. They aren't really interested in the objections themselves.
Think about it. Do any of your objections ever make a bit of difference? No matter how strong your argument, they will offer some lame excuse or reword it into something they can knock down. It always turns out that you've filled your noggin with apostate lies or spent too much time text-messaging with Satan. They're never, ever impressed. They probably just want to hear themselves talk over you so they can have the satisfaction of defending their all important world view.
I hope you can see my point here. You will never "win" these arguments in their eyes because they have a blind spot when it comes to their beliefs. They need their beliefs. They are desperate to maintain a very rigid, very fragile world view that needs constant upkeep. (That's why the meetings and the lessons are so important, not to mention avoiding anything that might put a crack in their delicate armor) Seeing you as secretly miserable, misguided, or too weak to carry on in Jehovah's service only builds them up taller and patches up any cracks they already have in their world view. Beating you up makes them feel stronger.
You have to realize that they aren't there to talk about your differences. They're there to be up built at your expense! Fierce resistance is actually just as good as standing there and meekly taking it from them. So what's a poor exxer in search of a little dignity and understanding to do?
What To Avoid When Witnesses Attack
...stand there and meekly put up with their behavior to avoid hurting their feelings or being shunned. They will only interpret this as a sign that you are ashamed of yourself and your "supposed" beliefs. To them, this only implies that somewhere, deep down, you still believe as they do. This is one of the worst impressions you can leave them with. After all, if you still believe, there is still hope of converting you. If only they can reach you ... well, maybe next time. And there will be a next time if you let them walk away with this impression of you! That just means they'll be back to beat you up some more.2.
...rage against them while complaining about your experiences when you were one of Jehovah's Witnesses. They will take this to mean that you are simply taking out your frustrations on God. To them, this means you are weak, petty, and overly sensitive. They may even see a passionate response as overcompensating for some imaginary weakness in your convictions! It honestly never occurs to them that your reaction is perfectly normal for someone being picked on by bullies with such a fanatical attitude. Bottom line: don't let them push your buttons. Always keep your cool and stay in control.3.
...refer to their religion as "The Truth" or their god as "Jehovah." After all, if you talk like a Witness, then maybe you still are one deep down. So stop speaking their language. It just encourages them to try and break down whatever barriers they think you've erected around yourself so they can reach you. Only use their terminology when necessary to make some point. You could even do the air quotes thing when you say it just to rub it in. (They'll love that) Just be careful who you use it with. Too much disdain could get you disfellowshipped, especially if you use it with the wrong person or with too many people.4.
...try convincing them that your views are valid. If you do this, then you are simply feeding the beast and adding to their service time to boot! If you try convincing them, then you are actually inviting them to pass judgment over you and your views. Never do anything that gives them more power over you. Just respond to any questions or accusations straight out - stating your conclusions instead of your reasons for those conclusions - and avoid justifying them with too many details. It's not as if you owe them any encyclopedic explanations here. Besides, the more you tell them the more they're going to try to dream up some flaw. Your tone should be reasonable, but matter of fact. Think in terms of, "Well, this is what I believe and that means I disagree with you. So what's wrong with that?" If you can take that attitude when the questions start rolling in then you won't feel like you have to justify anything you say. You are simply informing them of how you see things, not engaging them in the debate they came here for. Keep everything simple and be confident so you can show them that you mean everything you say.
Chances are that you've made all of these mistakes at one point or another. You've probably made most of them during the same "conversation" all at once. Now that you know what not to do, old Isaac is going to tell you what you should do instead. It doesn't even involve jail time! So let's get to the good stuff.
What To Do When Witnesses Go All Preachy:
Be sure to:1.
...keep your cool and stay in control of yourself until they leave. And watch the body language! Stare'em right in the eyes ... or between the eyes if you can't manage that. (No one can really tell the difference anyway) Keep your hands to your sides as much as possible to suggest you're ready for whatever they throw your way. It's not as comfortable in these situations as folding your arms, but that looks like you're getting defensive or have something to hide. You want to show them that you are not ashamed of yourself, you beliefs, or the discussion. You are tolerating their silly behavior, not the other way around. (Who's hassling who here? Know what I mean?) And don't get upset or they'll think they've struck a nerve. Always stay calm, confident, and steady throughout the encounter. Anything more will be misinterpreted in some way. Think of Cesar Milan from "The Dog Whisperer" by projecting calm, assertive energy. They may even be the ones to get upset if you remember this vital piece of advice.2.
...remember that you know how you feel and what you think. Not them. Deny their assumptions (such as "you know it's The Truth") in a firm, reasonable tone. When they sneak their assertion back in later (they almost always do) remind them that you've already covered that topic and that you told them they were mistaken. If they repeat it yet again, ask them why they keep repeating assertions that you've already denied. Are they accusing you of being a liar? Just don't protest too loudly. They might think they've struck a nerve again. Remember, they are looking for anything that can be interpreted as a sign of weakness from you. That's one of their main reasons for coming here to bully you in the first place! Deny it to them.3.
...keep your responses short and sweet. Make them a decisive summary of however you feel about an issue, then clam up. If you talk for more than a minute about anything, then you are probably trying to convince them you're right which is a big no-no! You aren't making an appeal here, you are simply giving them the courtesy of hearing your point of view about the issue they raised. (Something you aren't obligated to do for anyone if you think about it!) They don't get to have a say in how you actually think or feel about anything. If they deny your statements, don't encourage them by getting too troubled about it. And don't be afraid to point out how casually they just brushed aside your comments when they do this. This is actually a very disrespectful thing for them to do, especially when they asked you the very question you are answering. You can get a few pointers on this in an article I wrote earlier. You will also find other articles dealing with more specific situations if you look around my site.4.
...insist that they show you some degree of respect, especially if the "conversation" is taking place on your turf. When they behave badly, ask them to tone it down. If they get upset (probably out of frustration because you aren't giving them the responses they crave) calmly ask them to control themselves or leave. If they try to martyr themselves and talk about how they spent all this time and effort just to "help you," turn the tables by telling them you didn't want their help and that you're the one putting up with this as a courtesy to them! (Which is true any way) You could even ask them if they're going to log this as service time when they pull that one! That'll remind them that they are, in fact, the ones getting something tangible from the encounter. It will let them know that you are going to end their fun early if they get too far out of line.5.
Hint: you can get a head start by refusing to see them when they first show up unless they make an appointment or call first. If they want to argue, shrug and apologize. Then tell them you weren't planning on guests and would appreciate a little more courtesy next time.
...end the conversation by calmly letting them know that you do not appreciate their coming here to tell you how to live your life. You simply don't believe as they do and it's not their right to give you a hard time about it.
They will probably blame God or Jesus by reminding you that they are commanded to convert others. (Which is a weird thing for any evangelist to do when you think about it) Let them know that this is not an acceptable excuse and that you are going to hold them accountable for their actions, not God. Note that atheist exxers have an extra out because we don't believe in God or the archangel Jesus in the first place. But only use that if you aren't afraid of being disfellowshipped for apostasy. (Atheism is a form of apostasy according to the Insight Books) Finally, respectfully inform them that if they ever take advantage of your relationship again you will no longer keep in touch or welcome them into your home as you once did. Make it clear that this is a consequence of their actions. You've let them have their fun, now it's time they respected your decision and let the matter drop. If they don't have anything to say about that, then be sure to insist they give you their word that they will respect your conditions in the future. You can promise not to try converting them to your way of thinking in return so they feel like they get something from the bargain.
I know that some of the dos and don'ts overlapped. But repetition can work for you as well as it does against you if you let it. Focus on the don'ts for now, then focus on the dos. Both of them can help you minimize the misery of these experiences and make them less fun for the Witnesses still in your life. If you stand up to them and keep your cool, you will feel like a champ when they head for the door instead of a footstool. And you can even do it without killing anybody! (If you want)
-the Atheist Geek-