• View from the Pew: Dispatches of a Church-going Atheist–Jehovah’s Witnesses

Second in an ongoing series of dispatches  from the pew (you can find my first dispatch–from a Mormon church–here).

Part 1 catalogs my live tweets from a Jehovah’s Witness Sunday service. Part 2 details my impressions of a brief conversation with a Witness about evidence for the church’s claims and its finances.

Part 1

Part 2

After the meeting I briefly gathered my thoughts (briefly because my thoughts had been decimated by the preceding two hour ordeal) in order to strike up a conversation about Jehovah’s Witnesses with a representative member.

T. was kind enough to introduce herself as I stood waiting to speak with two Witnesses working behind a counter (they were dealing in faith, which is apparently OTC). She explained that she was devoted to full-time evangelism and happy to answer my questions.

“What is the evidence for the claims of your church?” I asked.

Not at all to my surprise she opened her mouth and then her Bible. “The Bible,” she said, apparently completely seriously.

I was unimpressed and so pressed for more. She cited Ephesians 4:5 as evidence (“One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”), still completely seriously. I failed to see how this entailed the truth of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ enterprise.

“What about money,” I asked, “does it cost anything to join your church?”

“No! We don’t tithe or deduct money from your income or anything like that,” she replied.

“But how do you pay for this building and for this Bible that you gave to me gratis?” I asked.

“Donations,” she answered.

As it happened I was standing in front of a little box for donations and had to move frequently during the course of our conservation  to allow Witnesses to deposit their monetary sacrifices. Donations.

T. was very friendly but did not care to play ball when I pressed for more specific information. She asked for my phone number so she and her husband could come study the Bible with me. It is a testament to my  remaining wits that I left with her phone number and not she with mine (I’ll not be calling).

Until next time, dear reader. Stay rational. Over and out.

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9 thoughts on “• View from the Pew: Dispatches of a Church-going Atheist–Jehovah’s Witnesses

  1. I have been reading your posts on religion (starting with your “Return & Report” post), and was hoping I could get some more context as to your intended purpose of encountering religion on its own turf. Understanding that you find the idea of faith harmful (“I say let the world go to hell, but I would always have my tea” – I very much enjoy Dostoyevsky, though I have not read all of the Notes from the Underground), can you enlighten me as to your intentions on tweeting from the pew and approaching the clergy after the meetings? I would very much like some critical analysis of how you feel your visits have assisted in your search for reasoned knowledge. Thanks.

  2. Hez,

    I’m happy to provide context to your very good question. My motivations are several-fold, but the most relevant to this discussion are:

    1. Simple curiosity.

    2. As a Mormon I was inculcated with a general disposition to all other faiths (namely that they are wrong and inferior). I was also given certain misinformation about specific faiths either deliberately or out of the ignorance of my erstwhile teachers. I want to transcend all of this by experiencing as many faith traditions as I can first-hand.

    3. Granted that I am convinced by the evidence that faith is harmful, an evolving purpose has become to do as H. L. Mencken says–

    “The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame. True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge.”

    First–I disagree that a man has the right to teach his children (or the children of his associates) his unfounded superstitions. Second–I aim to contribute in a small way to the routing of superstition by gentle ridicule. I had originally intended for my tweets to be purely objective but a couple of things occurred to me as I carried out my first experiment with this: I can’t repress my sense of humor in dealing with the absurd and I doubt very much that anyone would be inclined to read objective live tweets devoid of any personality or perspective for an hour or more. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised that people hang on with me live on Twitter through the hours of depressing fantasy…

    4. It’s a public service. I’m being a little cheeky, of course. However, when I conceived of the idea I thought that it would be of marginal interest to other atheists and skeptics and it is, if the feedback I’m getting is any indication. I also thought that it would be as educational for them as it would be for me. I’ve been receiving feedback to this effect as well. This is why I’m live tweeting these services–I could simply go and experience them without sharing anything (or blogging afterwards) but I believe that this is more productive, interesting, and immediate.

    I hope that this answers your question, Hez.

    Sincerely,

    Garrett

  3. Thanks for the explanation. I find religion fascinating (though probably not for the same reasons you do). I am entranced by the comings and goings of people (I almost pursued a degree in sociology). Juxtaposing Aristotle’s magnanimous man to Nietzche’s nihilism thrilled me. I find people truly devoted to religion the most intriguing, for of the people that are most dedicated to one thing or another in the world, those clinging to religion seem to invest such a great amount of themselves to it (their money, their work, their time, their lives, etc.; in your observation to their own detriment).

    I have always wanted to embark upon a mission of visiting various congregations of different sects, merely to observe the doctrine being taught and witness the form that different people worship … whatever it is they worship. I wouldn’t necessarily go to find truth, but there is something real to me about a person’s feelings and devotion to their chosen spiritual path. This can be said of all people, of course, that are devoted to one study or another (for example, I continue reading your posts because I am intrigued by your strict adherence to rationalism), but truly religious people display their devotion in such a unique way I simply can’t ignore it. I feel that there is truth with respect to human nature in the observation of any human person no matter what the activity in which they are engaged.

    As a follow up question, it seems that the finances of the institutions are of primary import to you. Can you enlighten me as to why?

    And as an aside, after reading your posts, I have felt a need to dust off my books of philosophy (though I must admit that I have read the works of only the most known names). Thanks.

    • Not at all, Hez.

      I agree–it is fascinating. But my fascination with it is more akin to a morbid curiosity, in some respects. I only reluctantly see anything remotely admirable about what you describe as dedication and devotion. But of course my subjective opinions are heavily influenced by my negative experiences with religion and faith. There is certainly something superficially compelling about all of it…

      As for finances–they are of interest to me because from my experience in the Mormon church the institution itself is more interested in money than in people. What’s more, members must simply trust that their donations are being used in the ways described in official publications etc. This is unfortunately not often the case (two excellent articles that explore the issues of finances in the Mormon church here and here). The trust of the average, earnest member has been abused by the lack of transparency etc. It is reprehensible. I’m curious about the degree to which church members of other faiths perceive their own church’s finances (and how this perception measures up to third-party consensus).

      Hez, thank you very much for following along and I’m delighted that you’ve been inspired to dust off your old philosophy books. Enjoy!

      Sincerely,

      Garrett

  4. God = all powerful owner of the universe, but he just can’t handle money. He needs yours. Simple observation: it’s always all about the money.

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