What if I am not planning to “convert” a J.W.?

39


Discussion by: Dianne M. Leonard
I have gotten into an on-going discussion with a Jehovah’s Witness at the laundromat (me doing laundry, him handing out his tracts.) He seems to be a very nice young man, about half my age, and is very non-pushy. I found out that JWs believe in separation of church and state, which is how we got to talking. However, he seems to be a bit scared of me. He asked, “Do you plan to convert me, to convince me that there is no creator?” I said, “No! I think that would be cruel and unfair.” However, I do think that an intelligent young man like him would be much better off if he were not  religious. Any suggestions about what to talk to him about?

39 COMMENTS

  1. Talk about logic, rhetoric and cognitive delusions. These are subjects, at which religious people are extremely bad. So probably if he sees that there are some working laws in these disciplines, may be, he will start thinking further.

  2. I don’t find it in the least unusual that a JW would favor separation of church and state. Were the state to knuckle under and back a specific religion, it is highly unlikely his faith would be the beneficiary of such a gesture.

    I don’t think talking him out of his fantasy would be either cruel or unfair- the cruelty came to him with his childhood indoctrination that led the poor young fellow to waste his evenings passing out drivel in laundromats when more fruitful and joyous pursuits are available to pass his limited time among the living.

    I’d have answered his question with, “Sounds as though you’d like me to try.” Regardless of his reply, I’d then say, “I am well aware of what you believe. If you have any hope of converting me, which I asume is why you’re here passing out leaflets, tell me exactly why you believe it.”

    There is no evidence for what he believes outside of the bible and if you cannot destroy that, I’d suggest you read it. The “perfections of the universe” agruments are lame, undereducated justifications for believing in a deity of some sort, but (without his ridiculous sacred texts) get him no closer to proving his specific god is the one responsible.

    The JWs have preached the end of the world as long as they have been around. I’d ask him what his god is waiting for. Think about the petty “sin and degradation” for which his god regularly dealt out the harshest of punishments in the biblical ages and then look at what has transpired in the time since he has gone silent.

    Where was he when they burned the witches, when the slave trade flourished, when Hitler and Stalin were at their their slaughtering finest, when we (regardless of justification) dropped the atomic bombs and Islamic nut-jobs blow up innocent men, women and children so they can screw threir sweet little pea-pickin’ brains out with gaggles of young virgins in heaven?

    Look at the horrible goings-on in most of the world today and ask this kid just how rotten do we have to become to get a rise out of his god. This god is either unable or unwilling or not there at all. The latter is the most logical choice.

  3. In reply to #4 by rjohn19:

    I don’t find it in the least unusual that a JW would favor separation of church and state. Were the state to knuckle under and back a specific religion, it is highly unlikely his faith would be the beneficiary of such a gesture.

    No. They are an Enlightenment Era religion. They’re like Unitarians except theists. They are an academic approach to Christianity, errant but a noble and consistent attempt. This is why they don’t have churches. They have study centers and schools which serve a lot of functions of a church, but it is fundamentally very different.

    It also isn’t very accurate to box them in with other so-called Christians, in terms of their beliefs. They don’t suffer a lot of the same absurdities, and have a whole set of their own,

  4. I told one JW lady who knocked at my door with a leaflet that I couldn’t understand how she could worship a god who was just so thoroughly unpleasant. I told her I worshiped Zeus who was just so much more reasonable and that I really did recommend Him. She quickly departed.

  5. Perhaps the most chilling conversation I ever had was with a very nice JW lady. I asked her point blank if her child needed a blood transfusion to live would she allow it. She looked me square in the eye and replied that she would not. She would allow her child to die rather then receive a transfusion. Those people are crazy.

  6. I would first tell him a story about your own doubt with religion. Perhaps it is a story that happened around his age or younger. Tell him a story that comes from the “heart.” By opening up to someone, they are more likely going to open up to you. Wait for a response, but always bring the subject back to “questioning is a good thing to do.” At some point, ask him if there was ever a time in which he had a twinge or uncomfortable feeling when an adult told him something. Maybe something didn’t sit well and he thought about it. If he tells you a story, let him know that questioning is a good thing. Remind him that his mind naturally works this way. You may also want to remind him that speaking to the elders in the church will automatically cause them to attack this discussion. Why is that when questioning is a natural process?

    The thing is, I don’t want to convert anyone and I don’t think you want to either. We just want people to learn to think for themselves, so model how you thought for yourself. Hopefully, he will learn something.

    (Also, I would be more likely to do comment #2.)

    • In reply to #10 by QuestioningKat:

      …The thing is, I don’t want to convert anyone and I don’t think you want to either. We just want people to learn to think for themselves…

      I agree 100% with wanting people to learn to think for themselves, but if that’s not a conversion then I don’t know what is.

  7. You could try out talking about the history of the separation between Church and State. The Rhode Island Minister (Priest?) Roger Williams figures importantly in this – he’s a dude who from what little I know led a fairly interesting life.

  8. There is no point in offering him evidence or science – from what ex JWs have said here, they regard LOOKING at material which challenges their faith, as sinful and to be avoided. Their aim in life is to boost their confidence by converting others, but will retreat into their closed groups for support if objective learning threatens. Denial is the knee-jerk reaction to anything conflicting with their faith – as indoctrinated by their group’s teachings.

  9. I would not think twice about trying to convince someone to act based on logic and reason, and to abandon the elements of their faith which go against this. Religious groups put up billboards and knock on peoples doors, their belief is an animal that wants to spread itself into anything and anyone possible. I would never tell anyone what they should believe, I don’t believe anyone has that right, especially someone who claims intimate knowledge of something obviously beyond any humans’ grasp. I would not hesitate however to point this fact out and implore someone to think for themselves. This could hardly be an immoral or questionable act, to try and convince someone to think for themselves when so many groups are working so diligently to convince them that this is not a good option. This is not even close to the same thing as pushing religious dogma on someone. You don’t have to set out to ‘convert’ him but you can definitely expose him to a different perspective maybe make him second guess himself. If you are simply sharing your perspective or different opinion honestly then you could hardly consider yourself as having converted him anyways. Beings as they are told to go out and talk to people though I would imagine they have safeguards to keep followers from falling prey to others’ logic. All the more reason to share your worldview.

  10. Why would changing anyone’s mind be “cruel and unfair”? Anyway, I would ask him why he’s so scared of “conversion”? Does he have doubts that he is desperately trying not to think about? That said, if he doesn’t want to talk about religion (a first for a Jehova’s Witness, frankly), you should respect his wishes.

  11. I would start by telling him that one of my core beliefs is that I don’t want to convert anyone to anything, I want to share my ideas so they can make up their own minds and I always have an open mind, there is just as much chance I might learn something from them as vice versa.

  12. As much as I would like to believe the young man was truly fearful of your ability to argue down his belief I also know that, with rare exceptions, the JW’s don’t let rank amateurs out to pioneer alone. This is probably a ploy to play on your motherly instincts to invoke sympathy for his plight. I know it sounds crass and a more than a little conspiratorial but I have had first hand experience with these hucksters because my mom is one. To illustrate my point I’ll tell you the story of how it came to be that the women in my mom’s congregation weren’t allowed to pioneer in pants during the winter.

    There was a definite downturn in the number of invitations to visit and repeat visits during the winter months except when the women went out wearing a dress. The natural inclination, by most people, to be polite and invite a woman in to warm up her legs on a cold day was soon used to great advantage by the elders of the congregation. They announced that all groups of pioneers should have at least one female in it, a reverse in longstanding policy against men and women pioneering together, and all the females should be wearing dresses because wearing pants wasn’t seemly when representing the TRUTH in public. I knew the real reason for the policy because the son of one elder was getting tired of his abusive father and would dish the inner workings of the elders to me to let off steam.

    These people are trained for hours on end before being allowed out into the world. Even when they are finally allowed out they have an experienced pioneer with them until they are deemed sufficiently experienced to handle those who are of the world. Age is unimportant, if the guy was so fearful and timid he wouldn’t even be out, let alone witnessing solo, and they don’t allow freelance pioneering either. Watch yourself, it might be a ploy to get an invitation to your home for more “Discussion”.

  13. I worked on a jw church some years ago, I was able to work away no problem nobody tried to convert me I found them ok the main dude in charge drove a saloon style car, but the people below him drove smaller hatchback cars then the people below them cycled on push bikes and the people under them had to walk everywhere and even below them there were those who weren’t allowed out of church grounds and had to do shitty jobs ie: cleaning the main guys car with a tooth brush (kid you not). My challenge to you Dianne and it is a challenge, is to try explain to the young man that if a puddle perfectly fits the hole in the ground is that intelligent design in progress? (thats from Ricky gervais by the way)Tell him to work back from there.

  14. In reply to #19 by Dublin-atheist:

    … if a puddle perfectly fits the hole in the ground is that intelligent design in progress? (thats from Ricky gervais by the way)

    Actually, the puddle analogy which Ricky likes to quote is from the great Douglas Adams. It’s from a lecture I believe, but reprinted in the collection The Salmon of Doubt. I will always remember that book, by the way, because it was Adams’ fulsome praise therein for the work of Richard Dawkins which led me to buy a copy of The Selfish Gene. Thanks Douglas.

  15. In reply to #18 by DocWebster:

    As much as I would like to believe the young man was truly fearful of your ability to argue down his belief I also know that, with rare exceptions, the JW’s don’t let rank amateurs out to pioneer alone. This is probably a ploy to play on your motherly instincts to invoke sympathy for his plight. I know it sounds crass and a more than a little conspiratorial but I have had first hand experience with these hucksters because my mom is one. To illustrate my point I’ll tell you the story of how it came to be that the women in my mom’s congregation weren’t allowed to pioneer in pants during the winter.

    There was a definite downturn in the number of invitations to visit and repeat visits during the winter months except when the women went out wearing a dress. The natural inclination, by most people, to be polite and invite a woman in to warm up her legs on a cold day was soon used to great advantage by the elders of the congregation. They announced that all groups of pioneers should have at least one female in it, a reverse in longstanding policy against men and women pioneering together, and all the females should be wearing dresses because wearing pants wasn’t seemly when representing the TRUTH in public. I knew the real reason for the policy because the son of one elder was getting tired of his abusive father and would dish the inner workings of the elders to me to let off steam.

    These people are trained for hours on end before being allowed out into the world. Even when they are finally allowed out they have an experienced pioneer with them until they are deemed sufficiently experienced to handle those who are of the world. Age is unimportant, if the guy was so fearful and timid he wouldn’t even be out, let alone witnessing solo, and they don’t allow freelance pioneering either. Watch yourself, it might be a ploy to get an invitation to your home for more “Discussion”. You could be correct there, as I seen with my own eyes when I worked on a jw hall, they were very careful about who was allowed to progress to the next level.a lot of cars needed to be cleaned using toothbrushs before they are given the plasure to walk around doing door to door stuff.

  16. It’s a trap!

    I don’t know, tell him to work it out by himself, and not by what other people tell him. How he came to believing that crap, ect… A big ask, for sure.

    Why, why why… The faith-head like the why question, time to put a challenge.

  17. I got some tracts (12 tracts for $4) from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I had 2 sweet JW elderly ladies knock on the door, and didn’t know how to handle it tactfully. Now I have my own tracts to trade for their WatchTower tract.

  18. In reply to #23 by bumphilosopher:

    I got some tracts (12 tracts for $4) from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I had 2 sweet JW elderly ladies knock on the door, and didn’t know how to handle it tactfully. Now I have my own tracts to trade for their WatchTower tract.

    And they probably end up in a similar place

  19. “I found out that JWs believe in separation…”

    do they really?

    when i answered the studio door to a couple and told them i was an atheist “i found out JWs” often have atheists come to their church to learn from them.

    i suspect they’ll say any old rubbish to keep people talking

  20. A few years back two JWs came to my door, and since I like debating, I invited them in. After that they visited me once a week for a short time, then a little less often, and after a six month break, they visited me a few times more. In total I invited them in maybe 15 times, each visit lasting between one and two hours.

    Of course, the nature of my meetings were different than what you have with this young man. I actively tried to plant a seed of doubt in my visitors, while they were proselytising. Sometimes the exchange I had with the JWs became quite heated. You on the other hand don’t feel like pushing the young man into anything he is not comfortable with. I would say the gentle way you’ve chosen is the way to go, if you have time for long discussions, that is. Going at it hard from the beginning usually tends to put the other person on the defensive. Instead, talk around topics not directly related to religion. Talk about the beauty of discovering things on your own and/or using science. Talk about things that’ll gain his trust. After that it’s easier to talk about things on a deeper level. He has surely been told in his group that all people who are not JW, including you, are from the Devil. As he said himself, he is a scared that you will turn his head away from god. So pushing him from the beginning is not a good idea. It might just lead to him shielding his mind off from anything you say.

    I would say that the most important thing is not about making him see that religion is untrue. It’s to make him think for himself, to encourage him to dare to look outside his box. When a person’s interest in questioning his religion has awoken, his faith usually starts unravelling from there. The person will also do the work himself, making him comfortable knowing that no one pushed him to changing his mind. The journey to Atheism usually happens that way: alone.

    I once read on-line about one person’s account of how he left the JWs. His advice for talking with a JW was to never talk about the Bible. Avoid it at all cost. I think many atheists fall in that trap when they talk to religious people. When the discussion gets heated, we atheists tend to start picking out parts out of the Bible that are irrational. But the problem is that JWs know the Bible really well. They have an answer and rationalization to any criticism. That’s the thing with the Bible, one can always find something in it that supports your point of view. If you feel the need to use examples, take them from other religions. Both you and a JW will readily agree that other religions are ridiculous, and it might help him see the parallels between his and others’ religions.

    Finally, remember that there is hope when it comes to changing the minds of Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to a report published in 2008 by Pew Research forum:

    Jehovah’s Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religious tradition. Only 37% of all those who say they were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses still identify themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    So almost two out of three JWs leave their religion at some point. Granted, many of them find another religion, but there is a great chance that the young man you’ve met will at some point become an ex-JW. Maybe with your guidance he will leave faith all togehter.

  21. A few years back two JWs came to my door, and since I like debating, I invited them in. After that they visited me once a week for a short time, then a little less often, and after a six month break, they visited me a few times more. In total I invited them in maybe 15 times, each visit lasting between one and two hours.

    Of course, the nature of my meetings were different than what you have with this young man. I actively tried to plant a seed of doubt in my visitors, while they were proselytising. Sometimes the exchange I had with the JWs became quite heated. You on the other hand don’t feel like pushing the young man into anything he is not comfortable with. I would say the gentle way you’ve chosen is the way to go, if you have time for long discussions, that is. Going at it hard from the beginning usually tends to put the other person on the defensive. Instead, talk around topics not directly related to religion. Talk about the beauty of discovering things on your own and/or using science. Talk about things that’ll gain his trust. After that it’s easier to talk about things on a deeper level. He has surely been told in his group that all people who are not JW, including you, are from the Devil. As he said himself, he is a scared that you will turn his head away from god. So pushing him from the beginning is not a good idea. It might just lead to him shielding his mind off from anything you say.

    I would say that the most important thing is not about making him see that religion is untrue. It’s to make him think for himself, to encourage him to dare to look outside his box. When a person’s interest in questioning his religion has awoken, his faith usually starts unravelling from there. The person will also do the work himself, making him comfortable knowing that no one pushed him to changing his mind. The journey to Atheism usually happens that way: alone.

    I once read on-line about one person’s account of how he left the JWs. His advice for talking with a JW was to never talk about the Bible. Avoid it at all cost. I think many atheists fall in that trap when they talk to religious people. When the discussion gets heated, we atheists tend to start picking out parts out of the Bible that are irrational. But the problem is that JWs know the Bible really well. They have an answer and rationalization to any criticism. That’s the thing with the Bible, one can always find something in it that supports your point of view. If you feel the need to use examples, take them from other religions. Both you and a JW will readily agree that other religions are ridiculous, and it might help him see the parallels between his and others’ religions.

    Finally, remember that there is hope when it comes to changing the minds of Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to a report published in 2008 by Pew Research forum:

    Jehovah’s Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religious tradition. Only 37% of all those who say they were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses still identify themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    So almost two out of three JWs leave their religion at some point. Granted, many of them find another religion, but there is a great chance that the young man you’ve met will at some point become an ex-JW. Maybe with your guidance he will leave faith all togehter.

  22. Dear Bogglingmind

    I’m not RD but I have read and I think I understand your question. Imagine yourself standing beside a still pond. You drop a pebble into that pond and you see a series of small waves spread outwards form the point where the pebble entered the water. Try this experiment over and over again and you will soon realize that the color of the pebble has no effect on the results. The pebble might be black, white, green or red and still you will observe the same results.

    The atoms of gas that make up our atmosphere and carry sounds waves work just the same. They do not need to “know” what language they are transmitting anymore than the water wave “knew” the color of the pebble. Language is something that is understood by the human mind and not by sound waves or spots of ink on a page or smoke signals. I hope that helps.

  23. I was reading this thread when I answered a knock, and it was John, the local JW guy. They’ve been visiting once or twice a month for several years, and I usually don’t mind (I admit to feigning absence a few times). John is a lovely gentleman of 80, and we talk as much about just general stuff as about religion. It turns out that he was a ski bum in Colorado in the 1950s, so we have that in common. I told him right up front that I am not religious, and that I didn’t want him to waste his time thinking that he might convert me. That’s sort of an ongoing truce — he does proselytize, and I answer with what I think. We have many disagreements, but I’ve never seen a hint of resentment in the old man’s eyes, and so he’s OK in my book, whether or not I am in his.

    I always accept their pamphlets and sometimes read them. Once in a while they (the people and the tracts) make some good points, but those points could also be made without resorting to magic. I suppose that the main difference John and I have is that he believes in absolutes and I don’t. We each seem to think the other a bit misguided, but talk in an atmosphere of mutual respect. John has said, “Well, as long as you act as you do I guess it doesn’t matter whether you think that your actions come from God or from nature”. I can’t ask for more than that.

    Sometimes he brings along a young protégé — usually about 16-20 years old. When I state that I see no place for a god, the young ones most often react with silent expressions of curiosity, revulsion, fear or smugness. I welcome all but the smugness. I imagine that they go back and talk about this godless person and what to do about him. As long as they don’t come back with physical weapons, I see that as a good thing. Believe it or not, when you’re surrounded by Southern Baptist evangelicals, the JWs can be a breath of fresh-ish air!

    }}}}

  24. “Believe it or not, when you’re surrounded by Southern Baptist evangelicals, the JWs can be a breath of fresh-ish air!”

    I don’t know about southern baptists (thankfully) but it seems like Christians and Catholics love to joke about those ‘crazy JWs’. Personally I think they seem a lot more reasonable/logical in a lot of ways. For example I don’t think they marginalize women and I don’t see the religion inciting anyone to violence. Definitely no more or less deluded than any other religion, and generally nice people.

  25. Be fair this person may be damaged.It could have happened recently, if the only people to console him and give him this warped sense of security were the JW then talk about something else other than religion and subtly get to the core of his clear lack of confidence then you may understand if he is merely being led or is indeed leading you.

  26. how about asking what other things he could do with his time if he didnt spend it in a laundrette trying to spread the word ?

    • the people in the laundrette mostly dont want to listen
    • the young man has to accept the possibilty that he may be wrong in his beliefs, given that other people have equal conviction for opposing beliefs, and as such would do a disservice to anyone who does listen
    • the time he spends in the laundrette could be diverted to other causes with more immediate and concrete positive results; helping drug addicts rehabilitate, helping under educated / illiterate adults catch up, …
  27. My feeling is; religion seems to be comparable to a drug habit. Hard religion, hard drug. So you are right to be cautious. My thoughts would start where he started in your quote. His fear of loosing belief. Living without a belief fix. A grey frightening world in his eyes most likely.. Talking about anything, but belief, God or religion might be the way to go, gaining trust, and widening horizons. So try not to talk about God or religion if possible. I take such things are not in your life, so keep that way, and lead by example. But from there who knows. I would never set the goal, better off without religion. Probably contra productive.

  28. In reply to #8 by Graham1:

    I told one JW lady who knocked at my door with a leaflet that I couldn’t understand how she could worship a god who was just so thoroughly unpleasant. I told her I worshipped Zeus who was just so much more reasonable and that I really did recommend Him. She quickly departed.

    I have contact occasionally with a couple of very pleasant JW ladies at my door. I just agree with them entirely about the ills of the world today, and then tactically, I have to rush,( “an appointment”) because I don´t want to discuss their solution; the answer is in the Bible.

  29. This might be slightly off topic but I had a brief encounter this afternoon with two young mormons. It was just outside the Apple Computer store in Palo Alto. The curious thing is the mormons were making no attempt to engage or talk with people, they were not proselytizing in the traditional sense. They were simply handing out business cards with a link to a website.

    I asked the younger of the two why he was a mormon. His answer was honest but unpolished. He simply replied that he was born a mormon. The slightly older one rush over to explain that he had prayed and God had spoken in his heart that the church of mormon was the one and only true church.

    But here’s the really odd thing. They had no interest in trying to convert me or win me over. When I tried talking to them they beat a hasty retreat. They said they had other things to do and took of down the street. If that’s the best the mormons can do why do they even try? I didn’t even have the chance to ask them about their magic underpants.

  30. TBH I think its cruel and unfair to let a person hold irrational beliefs and inflict them on their children (and others).

    So, I think you should ask him why he doesn’t believe in the gods worshipped by every other religion. He will find this almost impossibly difficult and probably won’t be able to answer immediately

    Once he can explain why he doesn’t, he should have understood that all the same reasons apply to his god as well.

  31. you will never get him to THINK…JW’s are a mess and they have been slowly and methodically indoctrinated into their cult religion. I think you ought to know that the “niceness” you see is cultivated specifically as well and covers so much of the lies they are told. I would not speak with them..you have no idea how they demand adherence and are very sick group. I should know..i was married to an ex JW for over ten years and what they do to each other makes me sick.

Leave a Reply