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Advice For Ex-Jehovah's Witnesses:
What To Do When They Say You Should Never Trust The Critics
You Don't Trust Their Sources, They Don't Trust Yours ... Fun, Ain't It? (The Answer Should Probably Be No)10/03/07
Your crazy Aunt Petunia is one of the Watchtower faithful who just won't leave you alone. She always has a Watchtower magazine to "casually" offer you after blatantly steering the conversation toward whatever she thinks you need to work on. You find that the most pertinent articles have already been highlighted and you have to admit - begrudgingly - that this is a big time saver. Then you start telling her why the Watchtower Society is black hearted and evil. Bizarrely, she actually uses the Society's own literature to prove that you're wrong. ("See, it says right here on page 12 that the brothers are good and honest! Now who could possibly refute something like that which they wrote themselves?") So you tell her about that one web site that proves how the Governing Body sacrifices heads of cabbage to Baal in secret. But she tells you that the critics are just bitter and angry and jealous and ... um, bitter. Finally, Petunia's visit ends like it always does and you're forced to move to yet another house after the fire fighters manage to save a handful of your possessions. Gosh darn that Aunt Petunia, but you can't stay mad at her. Besides, it's nice to know she's thinking of you. Maybe a little too nice.
So how should you deal with situations like this? And how do you put the claims of "anti-Watchtower" web sites into perspective? Here are some tips from your friendly neighborhood Atheist Geek.
Avoid The Conspiracy Stuff And Use What You Really Know
This can be tough for some ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, especially if they left the Society pretty recently. But you have to realize that most of this stuff sounds like a bunch of worldly lies and shenanigans to faithful Witnesses. It makes you look as biased to them as they seem to you. You are, in effect, causing them to shrug off everything you say ... which is pretty much what we do when they start singing the Society's praises.
Think about it. Have you actually seen those tax reports that show how many billions the Society is making every year? How do you even know that the JPEGs you found on "The Watchtower is Evil Incarnate" web site are genuine? Can you honestly prove that that transcript from the last Council of Doom session at Bethel is the real thing? And is Osama really hiding at Bethel headquarters and playing Backgammon with Dick Cheney? True or not, this kinda stuff will even make you sound a little weird to most non-Witnesses. Faithful Witnesses who actually believe that the Society represents God himself are even more likely to pull away from you when you start telling them things like this.
The truth is that you, personally, probably don't know for sure whether many of these claims are true or not. They may sound true and may even be true, but how much of it can be proven? If you can't prove it, then you don't actually know. What you do know are your own experiences and the reasoning you've done on those experiences. So when defending your decision to leave the Watchtower Society to Jehovah's Witnesses, I recommend you stick with what you know. It's the best way to be reasonable and fair. The Witnesses in your life will never see how unreasonable their arguments are unless they have a better standard to measure themselves against. If you really hope to defend your views or even attack theirs (which I don't recommend any way) then that standard should really be you. Hey, you can't expect to enlighten anyone if you're being just as bad as they are.
Mistakes In Reasoning That Witnesses Often Make When Asking Us To Return
Here are a number of common flaws that Witnesses make when asking us to come back to the Watchtower Society and how to point them out. Like Mr. Miyagi's style of karate-do, these are intended for defense (against their attempts to reconvert you) and never for attack (or "deconverting" them). They may not end their appeals for your return, but it might make their efforts less annoying by helping them realize what a**es they've been making of themselves over the years. Hey, if they're going to hassle you over your beliefs, the least they can do is restrict their arguments to ones that actually make sense!
"But the critics are just bitter and mad and stuff! They're biased! You can't believe their lies!"
1. "Since the Society admits that even their organization isn't perfect, can you name any critics who have made good arguments that are worthy of consideration? How about two? Can you even name one? If not, can you really tell me that you're being all that objective yourself?"
2. "Has the Society ever admitted that specific criticisms are valid and changed their policies or teachings as a result? If not, how can you claim that the Watchtower Society is being fair and unbiased? Or do you now believe that the Society is a perfect organization after all ... even though they claim they're not?"
3. "Can you tell me exactly what these critics are always mad and bitter about? Can you really tell me that every single person who's ever left the Society has come back to attack and harass it or Witnesses like you? Or do you actually know ex-Witnesses who are content to leave the organization alone? If so, how can you claim that all critics are just bitter and mad? Surely some of them have reasonable concerns. The Society never claimed to be perfect, you know!"
"But the Society actually teaches us to believe (fill in the blank) so the accusations you just made are wrong! I can even prove it. See, it says so right here on page ... of the text."
1. "I've read the literature for myself so you don't have to point out things like that. But the Society often makes these kind of statements. It often says the exact opposite thing someplace else in my experience, so they don't really impress me very much. I'm more interested in their actions. How can you say that (example of bad behavior) supports the statement you just read to me? Even if you know of other examples where they abide by that text you just quoted, that doesn't negate the bad examples. That's why I think my criticism is still valid."
2. "I see where the article you showed me also gave examples of how the Society complies with that teaching you mentioned. But have you ever seen examples of this behavior for yourself? Why does it seem like these cases are always from other countries? So far, all you've shown me are words in a book or magazine that they wrote themselves. Do you have any objective evidence from an independent source not affiliated with the organization? You know I don't trust the Society's motives, so why should I just take their word for it? I assume you must have found this sort of evidence before putting your faith in the organization to begin with. Right?"
"But if you don't do what we both know is right, you'll have to suffer the consequences! We have The Truth, after all. So when are you going to start acting like it? Time is running out!"
1. "Why do you keep insisting that I know you have 'The Truth' when I keep telling you I don't believe that at all? Are you accusing me of being a liar or what exactly? Or are you just not listening?"
2. "Why do you keep insisting that anyone knows you have 'The Truth,' much less me? I'm pretty sure that no one actually knows what 'The Truth' is unless God has been speaking to you personally. Last time I checked, not even the Governing Body has made a claim like that!"
3. "I keep telling you that I don't believe the Watchtower Society has 'The Truth.' So why would I fear the threats your 'Truth' promises?"
4. "The definition of insanity is repeating an action and expecting a different result. Repeating that line just makes me see you as a fanatic. Would you listen to a fanatic? Maybe you should try saying something new."
5. "Lot's of religions make that claim and all of them offer some form of proof. Threatening me with murder at God's (or Jesus') own hand won't change my mind any time soon."
Finally, when they make an overtly abusive/manipulative comment, call them on it. I don't have room here to list everything (perhaps I'll make a list some day?) but lines like, "Don't you want to see your dead grandparents in paradise some day? They'll wonder why you aren't here with the rest of us..." or "Don't do this to Jehovah! He loves you so much and he believes in you!" shouldn't really require much thought. Come right out and accuse them of using guilt and blame to manipulate you. Now it's their turn to squirm for a while. If you act quickly, you might even squeeze an apology out of them or, best of all, find the moral authority to ask them to leave.
Note: this can be tough when you're dealing with family. But no one has the right to treat people this way, especially people they claim to love. Many ex-Witnesses have self-esteem issues. Keeping people like this around only keeps the cycle of despair going strong. You may need to cut off or avoid people who treat you this way until you're ready to stand up to them. I encourage anyone with "friends" and family like this to find new friends or a surrogate family that's more up building. The people in your life should be there to build you up, not weigh you down.
-the Atheist Geek-