Yep, my (non)award winning series on the November issue of the AWAKE! magazine continues. This time, the Watchtower Society has gone into grudge match mode by throwing a world without religion into the ring with one that has religion. Which side will be the victor in their article? I bet it’ll be a surprise! OK, seriously, at least they didn’t use Hitler as an example of an atheist regime in action (the Nazis weren’t atheists). So they did a better job than I was expecting right there. All the AWAKE! magazine gives us is a picture of Hitler shaking hands with a Catholic and a subtitle about how awful other religions were for supporting (cowering before, really) the Nazis. That’s pretty mild when you consider how the Watchtower Society goes after other faiths, especially Catholics. Hey, maybe this will be a step up!
In my last post, I wondered if the Society would bother reaching out to atheists, or if the whole magazine would be about atheist bashing to win over members of Christendom1 at our expense. In the past, their condemnations of atheists have been fairly mild when compared to how some groups deal with us. Maybe the Watchtower Society recognizes how many ex-Witnesses have become atheists and doesn’t want to drive us farther away? Or maybe they have something else in mind.
Whatever the case, let’s see what’s in store for us in this AWAKE! article.
The Orlando Sentinel blog posted a tiny blurb in their “Religion World” section about Jehovah’s Witnesses called Jehovah’s Witness magazine is world’s most widely read. What makes the blurb interesting? Post number 1 was by someone called LeavingWT. It was a short comment about things he (or she) doesn’t like about Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower Society. Just three days later, and there’s already a full page of comments far longer than the original blurb, with Witnesses and ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses debating about the organization and it’s practices. None of these comments have anything to do with the Watchtower magazine’s readership, of course. Soon, there will probably be pages of comments unless the web site cuts them off. But the thing I found really interesting (and worth mentioning here) is the debate tactics used on both sides.
What do Jehovah’s Witnesses have over most ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses? A written narrative for almost any question you can think of, that’s what. Thanks to the Society’s narrative, Witnesses don’t have to think about their answers when a mean old apostate raises objections about the Society’s teachings. They can just quote the Watchtower’s narrative without using their own reasoning skills. That’s fine for them, but it’s a real problem when Jehovah’s Witnesses turn that narrative on the rest of us–especially if they’re trying to pressure us back into “The Truth” with pseudo reasoning. Not because they’re right, but because they can use that narrative as a hammer to shame former believers into submission. As always, the rest of us have to answer their rapid fire challenges the hard way: by reasoning on the spot for ourselves. Aggressive Witnesses probably won’t turn you back into a blood-card carrying member anytime soon, but it can sure leave you feeling like a dope. Or even ashamed.
So how can an ex-Witness deal with those Watchtower interrogation lights without feeling like a total chump? Here are some easy tips that even the most timid exxer can handle.
Want to know one thing that many atheists and ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses have in common? Dealing with aggressive evangelists who objectify us (or who want us to play our assigned role in their idealized conversion scenario). Whether they realize it or not, many evangelists tend to pigeonhole others into categories that are easy for them to handle. To them, we cease to be Jim, Rob, or Cindy. We become the generic angry atheist, the generic Witness who was hurt by the Elders, or whatever. And they’ll deal with everyone they’ve lumped in those categories in exactly the same way–even many people they’ve known all their life. This is one of the most annoying and even offensive aspects of aggressive evangelism. It insulates the proselytizer from the convert’s point of view, but makes it impossible for you to have a real conversation with them because they aren’t actually hearing you any more. No one likes to be objectified. How can you turn things around when your closest evangelist starts to objectify you?
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.