I don’t usually do reviews of the Watchtower Society’s literature, but the November issue of the AWAKE! magazine was special because it dealt with atheists and atheism. This isn’t something that flies off the Society’s printing presses every month, and as an atheist with Witness in-laws, I just had to bite. Now that my reviews of each article dealing with atheists are over, I wanted to clarify some things and explain my conclusions about the AWAKE! in a single, cohesive article to tie it all together.
There’s one major point I need to mention before we can begin. That’s the huge gulf between the values of ex-Witnesses turned atheists like myself and the values of the Watchtower Society. I’m not talking about values like honesty, hard work, and all that. I’m talking about how both groups value information and how we form our opinions. These issues are much bigger than they might seem and can be applied to all sorts of peoples.
For this post, I’ll be focusing on what makes good reading to atheists versus what makes good reading for Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ll also try to explain what those differences mean for both groups.
“I WAS RAISED AN ATHEIST” is the last article about atheism in the November issue of the AWAKE! magazine. This one gives us a personal testimonial of an atheist turned believer, named Frantisek Vyskocil.1 That could make this article the most interesting part of the whole AWAKE! for many people. When you consider how predictable the rest of these articles have been (they were almost exactly like the last AWAKE!2 on atheists) I’m really hoping this one will shine. If you’ve been following the rest of this series (which started here) you know that I haven’t been too impressed so far.3 So you’re probably wondering if this article will stand out or just blend into the crowd.
It’s been a few days since my last post (darn my real job!) so now, I’ll go ahead and give you the complete set. Let’s get started.
I knew I wanted to see Religulous the moment I had heard of it. So let me give you the setup for my first viewing: there was me (an atheist) eager to see what Bill Maher had in store. Then there was my wife (a Jehovah’s Witness) seated beside me. She probably wasn’t so sure this was a good idea. But I had already put the disk in the DVD player and — more importantly — I had actually bought the damn thing so there was no way she was going to let it go to waste. (My wife comes from a long line of incredible cheapskates, so that was that.) Now I hadn’t previewed Religulous for her or anything like that, so I didn’t know how offensive it would be to her. But I had seen Maher’s interview on the Daily Show where he explained his belief that atheism was a religion. Most atheists would disagree with Maher on this, so I figured he would offend me too. Not so. In fact, I preferred Religulous to many other documentaries of its kind.
Religions have spent eons honing defenses that keep outside information away from insiders. The innermost ring wall is a set of certainties and associated emotions like anxiety and disgust and righteous indignation that block curiosity. The outer wall is a set of behaviors aimed at insulating believers from contradictory evidence and from heretics who are potential transmitters of dangerous ideas. These behaviors range from memorizing sacred texts to wearing distinctive undergarments to killing infidels. Such defenses worked beautifully during humanity’s infancy. But they weren’t really designed for the current information age.