Chatting with @jworg-ers!

I already recorded a special-edition vlog for this, but my fucking adrenaline’s still surging (which kills my appetite, which pisses me off), so here’s more umbrage expulsion!

My first real experience with the Jehovah’s Witnesses was when I was a kid in Hillsboro, OR. At the time, I was a sort of Episcopalian. I say “sort of” because I didn’t really care that much. I was what my parents were and I had no particularly deep theological thoughts. I went to church. I stood. I sat. I didn’t consider it to much greater degree.

The doorbell rings. I open it to find two middle-aged, pleasantly demeanored ladies looking like they wanna sell me something. This wasn’t an unfounded assumption; that sort of thing happened often via Boy Scouts (of which I myself was guilty), local school groups, etc. The larger and closer of the two ladies got the greetings out of the way and started in on inocuous questions like, “Do you like to read?” I honestly don’t remember what she asked, but whatever it was, it was non-threatening in tone and content (probably designed to draw the door-owner into conversation without said door-owner’s suspicion). I answered, “Yes,” or whatever I said and we got to chatting.

At one point, she said something like the world was ending soon. I corrected her that science currently predicted the earliest end to our existnece (on Earth) would be in the millions, if not billions, of years.

“I have to disagree with you there,” she offered in a very kind-condescending smile.
“Yeah, well, you’re standing on my front porch, bitch, so how about this? Fuck off!”

The first quote basically happened. The second one happened in my head. It did seem audacious, though, for her to just sort of confront a kid like that. I mean, seriously, who the fuck did they think they were? Oh, that’s right. JWs.

The conversation went back and forth, as conversations tend to do, this point was brought up, that point was argued. I remember practically none of it. At some point, the ladies handed us a Watchtower thing and left.

Two younger, prettier ladies showed up at my doorstep today. Akin to their predecessors, they didn’t start with, “Hey, we’re Jehovah’s Witnesses and we’d like you to convert to our faith!” No, no. They started with, “Can we leave some information with you?”

Well, sure, but what kind of information– What the fuck does that mean? It was like being mentally mugged. You have no idea what’s going on until you’re deep into the going-on. And then it’s too late.

I gave some non-commiting answer like, “Uh, sure,” and I accepted what the girl on the right was handing me. That’s when I realized I was being mugged. I don’t remember the copy, but it said something about eternal life.

My adrenaline surged.

I told them something about there being no evidence for such a thing; that eveything we are, thoughts, feelings, what most call a soul, is in our brains and when we die, that’s it.

They agreed, but then it gets murky.

Let’s get to the epic fails. Because there were some. One that I recall was that, due to my adrenline surge, I was talking quickly, having to stop for breath, and I’m certain that showed. This wasn’t so much a failure as it kind of threw me off my game. I was conscious of it. Being conscious of it meant I wasn’t completely focusing.

Another was I asked if they knew about the lawsuits (at least one won) against the church by victims of pedophilia. The biggest reason why this was a failure was that I don’t know all the details. Thus, I couldn’t speak about it very intelligently about it. The girl on the left walked all over me when I asked if they knew that the church was selling its lands to cover legal costs. She asserted that the church was, in fact, selling its lands because of the tax burden. She also corrected me that it wasn’t the church that had been sued, but individuals. Whether these are true or not doesn’t matter. What matters is I didn’t really know what I was talking about, but forged ahead anyway. I hate it when the religious do that so I shouldn’t do it myself.

But that wasn’t the biggest failure. Oh, no.

A tiny bit of background: I was on an A-News episode a few weeks ago with Don Albert, a former JW elder, and we heard all kinds of details of all of this and, more importantly, he said the easiest way to get a JW into a corner is ask if God kills children. He quoted where in the New Testament God does this. He said they can’t reconcile that they all say God doesn’t kill children, yet in the verses he quoted, God does.

Okay, back to the present. I ask the ladies if God kills chidlren. They respond with a resounding no. One problem:

I completely fucking forget what Albert had quoted. I don’t even remember what book it was in. I’m scrambling. I’m sweating. I have no idea what to do. I’m five years old at my fucking piano recital and I have no idea what the next note is. I do what any self-respecting skeptic would do.

I vamp.

I ask about the flood. Didn’t God kill lots of children there? They’re ready for me. No, God warned of the flood so it was the children’s parents’ inaction that led to the children’s deaths, not the flood. I pointed out that were I to lie down on the ground right now, I wouldn’t die of that alone. Water would have to fill my lungs for that to happen. The girl on the left brought up hurricane Katrina, how those people were warned, but how some chose to stay, so was it the fault of the government that they died? I didn’t answer (though I should’ve said that the government didn’t send the hurricane) not because it wasn’t a good point but because I was trying to get them to answer yes/no, did God send the flood?

The conversation devolved. I should’ve brought up God’s omniscience and how he knew that children would die because their parents wouldn’t heed the warning, so it was still kinda on him. But I didn’t. My voice was probably rising. I think maybe because the girl on the right, the one who’d introduced them, suggested that we were getting into an argument and they didn’t want that. Fair enough.

It’s just as well. I was getting tired of the conversation anyway.

Now to the awesome bits!

I don’t recall what I said that prompted this, but the girl on the right asked where life comes from. I warned them that what I was about to say wasn’t an attack, though it might seem like it. I asked if they knew what an argument from ignorance is. They said no. I asked if they knew what ignorance was. They said yes. I asked them to define it. We were all on the same page. I further explained (though perhaps unnecessarily) that I fully admit to being ignorant of thermodynamics, relativity, etc. I may have some familiarity with them, but I can’t claim expertise. I explained to them what an argument from ignorance is and that at one time, we thought demons caused disease. Then some whacko came up with “germ theory.” Now we know what causes disease. We used to–all of us–think that the universe was eternal, then that moron Hubble discovered that it had a beginning. Every phase of human knowledge has started with “we don’t know” and has ended with some revolutionary discovery. Blah blah blah.

They asked if I thought life came through evolution (I’d already brought up evolution). I said the origin of life, or abiogenesis, was a separate matter from evolution. That evolution through natural selection has been proven at least through DNA, but through many other means. There was no controversy. It’s a settled matter. But the origin of life, no, we don’t know exactly, but we have a pretty good idea (Urey-Gellar), and to argue that because we don’t know yet means either we’ll never know or simply that God did it was an argument from ignorance.

At some point, I also asked what their greatest argument, their greatest evidence was for what they believed. Know that that was?

I don’t remember.

What I took from this is: 1 I need to calm the fuck down and not get into shit I don’t know about, and 2 that asking questions, specifically of how they arrive at their conclusions, sticking to topics I do know well, finding out their knowledge of logical fallacy, are all the right way to go.

Feeling pumped after the encounter, I quickly recorded a vlog entry to dump and then I spoke with Lee Moore because, despite having calmed down a bit, I was still bothered. I’m not sure what I was looking for with Moore, perhaps that I’d done a decent job, but we spoke for a while. He pointed out that in the very least, I dropped seeds. No, they may not turn around, drop their Watchtowers, and get lives, but even introducing them to arguments from ignorance was good.

Around here I wondered why we (atheists) do this. I’ve sworn it hasn’t for me been to de-convert people. Moore readily admits that for him it is. Maybe it ultimately is for me too, but I think there’s something more fundamental. To some degree, I don’t care that much of the grander claims, like a sentient being created the universe. What I care more about is the specifics of things like science education. The dangers of magical thinking. Maybe that’s semantically the same. I don’t know. At least, though, I’ve learned a bit for next time.

One Response to “Chatting with @jworg-ers!”

  1. […] onto this entry. As is described, I recorded it haphazardly after a lengthy session with Jehovah’s Witnesses, my first in decades. I tried to take Don Albert’s advice in how to handle the situation and […]

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