March is month three of my Beyond Belief project, and I was sitting at home debating which religion I should check out this month. As if by some kind of divine intervention, my doorbell rang and I answered it to find two ladies standing there. It’s as though religions are now being delivered to my door, like some kind of divine Deliveroo!
They introduced themselves as Sandra and Beverley., and they thrust a brochure into my hands and asked if I knew about Jehovah’s plan for me. I said I didn’t, and that I was a confirmed atheist, but that I was doing a project this year to learn about 12 different religions in 12 months. I suggested that they should tell me all about theirs, which turned out to be the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were a little taken aback (in a good way) at the idea of someone trying a different religion each month and said they wished more people could be more open minded about religion.
We stood at the door for quite a while discussing what the Jehovah’s Witnesses are all about. I mentioned that I had a great aunt who became a “Joho” and that it didn’t make her very popular with the rest of the family. I learned that Jehovah is just God’s actual name, and that, if he is your best friend (and why wouldn’t he be?) they surely you’d call him by his name, Jehovah, not his title, “God”. That sounds way too formal, right?
These two women knew their stuff when it came to the bible (I later found out how). They were quoting passages left and right, and then Sandra pulled out a bible app on her phone and showed me that they were not just making these quotes up. Apparently God really DOES love me. The bible clearly says so.
The Jehovah’s Witness religion is like many other strict bible-based religions I’ve come across, in that it uses the bible as a fundamental and canonical source of truth. Their logic suggests that everything in the bible is true because it’s in the bible. To me, that’s always been a very circular argument… I can’t quite reconcile the idea that the proof of a thing being true is simply because the thing itself says so. So when I hear people quoting the bible and then looking at me like I should be instantly convinced because the bible says so…. Yeah, nah. It don’t think it works like that. Maybe God loves me (I’m pretty lovable after all), but using the bible as “proof” of that presumes I believe there’s a God and that I am willing to believe because some book says it that it must be true. That reasoning does not get a QED from me.
Regardless, they were nice ladies, and far be it from me to deny them the right to believe whatever they want to believe. (Can you imagine what a different world this would be if we all just let other people believe whatever they want to believe, without condemning them for it?)
Anyway, we spoke at the door for a while, and I said I wanted to learn more, so they invited me to a bible study evening at the local JW Kingdom Hall. I’m in.
So I rock up to the bible study group a few days later, not quite knowing what to expect. First of all, I’m a little surprised at how well dressed everyone is for a Thursday night. I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Nobody told me there was a dress code. Oh well, good thing God loves me anyway.
I enter the building and am greeted by a guy who ushers me into the main room and seats me next to a “buddy” to look after me. There’s a guy talking on the stage, digging into a passage from the bible, and leading some Q&A about it. This goes on for a while, again, using the bible as proof of the bible which, as I said, I don’t really get. The passage being studied was focused on how we should all be obedient and subservient to God, sorry, Jehovah, and that we need to live good clean lives without sin. They went on to explain that if we have friends or know people who don’t live good clean lives without sin then we need to break ties with them and cut them out of our lives. Because God loves everyone; but those people, not so much. Moreover, what do you do if you’re the one not living the good clean life? How do I cut myself out of my own life?
This discussion was followed by something I didn’t expect… some role playing about what to do on the “second return visit”. You know when you get a knock on the door from your friendly Jehovah’s Witnesses? That scenario does not just happen, it is very well rehearsed. At this meeting they were practising what to say and how to handle the conversation when they return to talk with you for the second time. What to say, what questions to ask, how to respond to objections, etc. It was like a well designed sales course. There was a structured set of notes, supporting videos, and a whole curriculum to follow in executing these door to door visits. Many of these resources are illustrated with what can only be described as “Jehovah’s Witness art”, which is mostly full of happy looking white people in a 1950s Disney movie, living the happy shiny life God made for them. I applaud them on being so organised and optimistic, gosh darn it!
Following that there were more conversations about the next part of that same bible passage studied earlier, with more sharing of ideas about what it meant, and how we should live our lives based on it. My buddy seated next to me handed me a bible so I could follow along, and even lent me his phone with a special JW bible study app on it for further detail of the passage. I tried to keep an open mind, and take in the teachings being discussed, which at their core, are reasonable ideas. I think you can probably sum up the main message of the bible as “let’s all try to be nice to one another”.
At the end of the evening (after about 2 hours) it wrapped up and there was some socialising and chatting of the people in attendance. Sandra, who initially invited me, found me and came over to say how glad she was that I was there. We chatted a bit, and I was introduced to some other people. They all seemed like very nice people, super friendly, and I was told I could even keep the copy of the bible which I’d been using. It was nice to observe the sense of fellowship that existed in this group.
A few weeks later I had a follow-up visit from Sandra, when she popped by just to see how I was, and what I thought of the experience. (This was the first return visit, not the second return visit, so I can’t grade her on how well she did). To be honest, I’m still not really sure what I thought, except that I know this religion is not one for me. I can’t quite accept the whole “it’s in the bible so it must be true” thinking, and I still see far too many contradictions in it… like being told to ditch your friends if they are not living what you consider to be a wholesome life, while Jesus gets to hang out with prostitutes and other unsavoury characters. How does that work?
So, to sum up, definitely not a religion that attracts me at all (not that I’m looking) but it was still interesting to learn more about it.