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September 27, 2011 9:00 AM   Subscribe

A couple of Jehovah’s Witness' knocked on the door of secular parenting advocate Dale McGowan. What happened next is both funny and instructive, without being disrespectful or confrontational. Part 1 Part 2
posted by COD (209 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ugh, I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness and had to go knock on doors just like the "moon-faced" 16 year old boy Mr. McGowan mentioned. I understand what Mr. McGowan was trying to do by pointing out how idiotic the JW teachings are, but that's not the way to do it unless his goal is to show that he's smugly superior to the dupes at his door. Not nice.


P.S. I am an atheist now, so please don't disfellowship me from Metafilter.
posted by Maisie at 9:14 AM on September 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


It seemed like an entirely reasonable way to go about it, to me. It's not like he hurled insults at them.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 9:16 AM on September 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


I like how he is being very thoughtful about this, which is rare in these polarized times:
“Do you believe in God at all?” she asked at last. I do not, I said, but I’ve always been fascinated by ultimate questions. The people I don’t understand are the ones who are indifferent to those questions. She agreed.
"Be out and normal" is good advice, too.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:17 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've read more than my fair share of stories where the writer comes off as smugly superior, and this one seemed much more even-handed to me. At no point did him say or really imply that the person at his door was stupid, and in fact said that he agreed with their morality more than what is professed in the book they're touting.

It's refreshing to hear someone logically and honestly engage other people about their beliefs.
posted by mikeh at 9:18 AM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've done something similar. My question was: "OK, so God looks down at his creation and sees all the sin of man. He hates the sin, so he has to decide what do do about it. What does he decide to do?"

They are all primed to talk about Jesus, so they naturally answer "Well, God sent his son to die..." To which I answered, "Wrong. You decide to flood the whole Earth, killing almost all the people and (innocent) animals in horrible deaths."

The fact that the same God would have two solutions to the same problem (oops! the Flood thing didn't work! Have to sacrifice Jesus, I guess) is extremely difficult to explain to someone who hasn't already bought into it.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:18 AM on September 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


Ugh, I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness and had to go knock on doors just like the "moon-faced" 16 year old boy Mr. McGowan mentioned.

My family used picket abortion clinics and hand out Chick tracts. I was that a more talkative kid than the one described in the story though. I remember trying to convince my neighbour that dinosaurs bones could have been placed in the ground by Satan. Yes, I was that kid.

I'm glad there are people like the linked blogger who are willing to confront the BS, because some of us needed that.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:23 AM on September 27, 2011 [16 favorites]


I thought everything after the bit where he fakes like he wants to execute his kid was good and respectful and even-handed.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:25 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


That. Was. Awesome.

However, he was picking on an amateur, so maybe it was just like shooting fish in a barrel.

I'd be curious to see what would happen if one of the church leaders could be caught up in a discussion like that. At what point would they stalk out of the room, or refuse to speak anymore, or simply repeat, like a mantra, it is the true word of Jehovah and we are too lowly to understand it all? I really, really believe no one ever had a change of heart over a conversation like this.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:27 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like Dale McGowan, but calling him just a "secular parenting advocate" is downplaying it a bit. He's more like the most prominent author of atheist parenting books in the US--probably one of the worst possible doors these Jehovah's Witnesses will ever knock on.
posted by mattbucher at 9:27 AM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


P.S. I am an atheist now, so please don't disfellowship me from Metafilter.

Umm, that sounds more like religious cult behavior than agnostic/intellectual/atheist/apatheist behavior.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:30 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maisie: I understand what Mr. McGowan was trying to do by pointing out how idiotic the JW teachings are, but that's not the way to do it unless his goal is to show that he's smugly superior to the dupes at his door. Not nice.

I agree with others that this method is more of leading someone to a realization, not saying "you're stupid for believing in a make-believe sky person."

My question to you, Maisie, is: what is the nice way to address Witnesses when you yourself don't believe what they teach?


Mental Wimp: I really, really believe no one ever had a change of heart over a conversation like this.

I agree, because it isn't a change of heart you're going for, it's a shift from faith to rationalization. Religion isn't something you can rationalize, it's a matter of faith. I think beliefs change with faith is challenged, not chains of logic.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:30 AM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


As a believing Christian, I really liked the respectful way McGowan interacts with religious people. You treat people like people and all kinds of good things happen.
posted by willF at 9:33 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really, really believe no one ever had a change of heart over a conversation like this.

I think conversations like this can stick with a person and, over a period of time, cause a change of heart. I think that because I got an email from a person (a former Orthodox Jew) once saying that a conversation he'd had with me two years prior had done that to him.
posted by callmejay at 9:38 AM on September 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I really, really believe no one ever had a change of heart over a conversation like this.

It isn't one conversation that does it; it is many. But if no one ever starts one, then you can't have the many, and nothing ever changes. But I can tell you that conversations and writing like this do have an effect, because they had an effect on me.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:39 AM on September 27, 2011 [20 favorites]


I thought everything after the bit where he fakes like he wants to execute his kid was good and respectful and even-handed.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:25 PM on September 27 [+] [!]


I agree and I wish he'd handled the part of the conversation before that the same way instead of reeling in the person at his door by feigning interest. The way he approached this came across to me more like he was trying to trap the JW into contradicting herself (which, granted, isn't hard to do with JWs because the religion is nutty) rather than engaging in discourse honestly the way he'd probably do with anyone else. I get that he was trying to plant a seed of doubt in her and the unfortunate moon-faced boy's minds. That's a particularly bad approach with Jehovah's Witnesses because they're conditioned to think that non Jehovah's Witnesses are sinful liars who want nothing more than to destroy the one true religion. In this case, he took the opportunity to plant the seed of doubt, but instead used it to reinforce the completely bullshit ideology that the governing body of the religion spews.

I don't know...I really, really hate that religion and I'd like nothing more than to see it vanish from the face of the earth. I believe that it's truly evil, which is probably a whole separate post. But most of the people who practice it aren't evil, just grievously wrong, frighteningly naive and actively mislead.
posted by Maisie at 9:42 AM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


When I'm having these sorts of discussions with people, I hate it when they try to lead me down some garden path instead of just coming out and making their point straight-up, so it's hard to me to view that debating tactic in a positive light.

I think it would have been much more honest for him to just say, "look, some of the reasons that I can't buy that this book was written by a god are this, this, and this". Pretending like you've got some sort of spiritual crisis to reel them in seems like just the kind of bait & switch that I find annoying in certain types of religious proselytizing.
posted by jcreigh at 9:43 AM on September 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


I thought this was about as measured a response as a person could give while framing the argument with the Witnesses' own parameters (which seems like pretty much the only way to get the point across.) This definitely seems like the kind of encounter that could stick with someone and eventually widen their horizons a little bit, maybe even a lot.

James Gurney also had an interesting encounter with some Jehovah's Witnesses.
posted by usonian at 9:44 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The other way to deal with door-to-door proselytizers is the way my Mother -- who was raised JW -- once (inadvertently) drove off a pair of Mormons who came round on their bicycles. Being a sweet Southern lady, she naturally invited them inside, fussed about how dreadful it must be to be out in the heat, and dressed like they were! Of course, they just had to have some sweet tea (plenty of ice!) and sit down for a bit, and she had some cookies, they just had to have some cookies! No, no, they could get around to the whole Book of Mormon thing in a bit, after they'd settled a bit, did she mention how horrible it must be out in this heat? She knew how she could hardly stir herself to go outside and tend the garden, and you know, you look like you're just a bit shorter than my eldest son, and I think I have a much lighter dress shirt he's grown out of, why don't you try it on? No, well here, you just take it for later. Let me get you a hat! More tea?

The Elders probably spent about 2 hours on our couch, during which I'm not sure they ever got to finish a sentence. Afterwards, they never came back. It's not like that was my Mom's intention, she just mother'ed the evangelism right out of'em.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:53 AM on September 27, 2011 [36 favorites]


“Ma’am, one of us is struggling, and I don’t think it’s me.” I dropped my pretense. “Look — I’m not planning to kill my son. It’s immoral now, AND it was immoral in ancient Judea. The Sixth Commandment, remember? There’s no ‘context’ that makes it okay to kill a disobedient child. It’s also a bit of a problem to say that a book including such a clear instruction is to be followed to the letter.”

Bzzt, redflag! Original translation of the sixth commandment is a proscription against murder. There were TONS of 'justifiable' killing opportunities in ancient Judea. And justifiable decimations, and justifiable genocides, justifiable abortions, etc etc...
posted by FatherDagon at 9:58 AM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


My question to you, Maisie, is: what is the nice way to address Witnesses when you yourself don't believe what they teach?

I used to be a Witness as well, and I have the same reaction as Maisie that McGowan comes off sorta smug.

The issues is that, to appearances, the Witnesses are at your door to have a discussion about faith. That is the appearance that McGowan is responding to. The truth is that the Witnesses are not at all at your door to have a discussion about faith. They are they to convert you to their religion. They are not the least bit interested in what you have to say, even if you're the foremost expert on Atheist parenting. It is not intended to be a two way discussion. McGowan has executed a brilliant queen's gambit in a game of go fish.
posted by chrchr at 10:07 AM on September 27, 2011 [23 favorites]


Because I've made so many appeals to tolerance in the Interfaith Commons in here, I feel I should confess something: the last time I was (in)directly involved with a doorstep-evangelizing like this, we did not handle the situation with NEARLY as much tact.

Instead: this was 3 years ago, I was over at my ex's place and we were awakened early in the morning by a knock on his apartment door. He thought maybe it was the super, so he got up and got the door with a towel around his waist -- instead it was a Jehovah's Witness, one of a team of three who were splitting up the knocking-on-doors on his floor. It took him a minute to figure out that's what they were doing there, and when he did he politely but firmly excused himself by saying, "I really can't talk right now, because I'm naked and in the middle of having sex." They backed away with profuse apologies and he shut the door. But then he saw through the peephole a moment later that the three were in a huddle in the middle of the hallway trying to figure out what to do; wait a little while and come back? Give up? ...So he and I started jumping up and down on his bed and making full-on, Meg-Ryan-screaming-in-the-deli sex noises for a few minutes. When he peeped through the hole again, they'd vanished.

So, that also works, although it's perhaps not quite as adult a response....for certain definitions of "adult", that is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:09 AM on September 27, 2011 [23 favorites]


P.S. I am an atheist now, so please don't disfellowship me from Metafilter.

Umm, that sounds more like religious cult behavior than agnostic/intellectual/atheist/apatheist behavior.


Um, that was kind of the point of the comment.

Though the more cultish aspects of metafilter have yet to be fully sussed out.
posted by blucevalo at 10:11 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why don't people just shut the door again without saying anything? You are not obliged to engage in conversation with random punters knocking your door.
posted by brokkr at 10:16 AM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why don't people just shut the door again without saying anything? You are not obliged to engage in conversation with random punters knocking your door.

Yep. After I typed my reply, I realized that I didn't actually answer flighty light thief's question. The most respectful way to respond to Jehovah's Witnesses is to say, "Thank you, but I'm not interested" and close the door.
posted by chrchr at 10:18 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a liberal Christian who absolutely believes that the Bible is obviously NOT the inerrant word of God -- it can't possibly be -- I thought it was a great demonstration of how everyone, always, uses their own moral sense to determine what is OK and what isn't. And if "context" can mean that Matthew 5:17 is archaic and out of date and needs to be abandoned, then guess what, it can apply to Leviticus 20:13 or 1 Corinthians 14:35 as well -- and obviously does.
posted by KathrynT at 10:20 AM on September 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


My question to you, Maisie, is: what is the nice way to address Witnesses when you yourself don't believe what they teach?

I don't believe what the Jehovah's Witnesses teach. When they come to my door (which is probably once every 3 or 4 years), I am very polite, I tell them that I and my family are very religious, that we regularly attend church and that we are active in our religious community. Then I tell them that I am very familiar with the Jehovah's Witnesses and their beliefs and that I have great respect for them. I tell them that I, too, have been in their shoes as a missionary, and that I know how difficult it is to do and what great faith and devotion it takes to put yourself in a position where people are often disrespectful and rude. I then tell them that I'm not interested in talking with them about their religion or telling them about my own religious beliefs, but that I'm willing to take whatever literature they're passing out. And I usually offer them a glass of water.

Knocking doors sucks and I figure it's a pretty safe bet that at least 50% of each pair of missionaries doing it is having a bad day and would rather not be there. So I try to keep that in mind.
posted by The World Famous at 10:21 AM on September 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


When they come to my door (which is probably once every 3 or 4 years), I am very polite, I tell them that I and my family are very religious, that we regularly attend church and that we are active in our religious community. Then I tell them that I am very familiar with the Jehovah's Witnesses and their beliefs and that I have great respect for them.

See, you're just encouraging them. Parasites shouldn't be encouraged.
posted by xmutex at 10:24 AM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's not necessary to call well-meaning people parasites, even if their well-meaning manifests itself rudely.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:26 AM on September 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


I dunno. This reads just a little too pat for me. Like one of those conversations you wish you could have rather than one you actually did have. I only say this because the particular tactic the writer is using here is a very hoary old one which has been hurled around in the atheism/religion war forever. It's right up there with the "God hates shrimp" and "God hates mixed fabrics" stuff. I'm not saying the guy is making the whole thing up, just that I suspect he's made the exchange a good bit tidier than it probably was. I've used this particular argument many times myself and I've never had such a compliant, easy response from the person I've been arguing with. Although they do pretty much invariably hurl that word "context" out as an initial line of defence.

Why don't people just shut the door again without saying anything? You are not obliged to engage in conversation with random punters knocking your door.
posted by brokkr at 6:16 PM on September 27


I don't think there was any suggestion that was the case, was there? Most of us usually do just shut the door. But some of us, sometimes, find the approach of the door-knocker sort of offensive, so we decide not to let it pass. And other times we've read yet another outrageous bit of religious special pleading in the newspaper and it's made us remember how the world used to look when everyone pretty much had to refrain from arguing back at religion. And at still other times, we look at that moon-faced child, being dragged around by someone spouting what we regard as essentially dangerous, damaging lunacy, and we get sort of angry, you know? Angry enough to try to show the kid that maybe this bullshit pablum they've been raised on may not be as nutritious as they thought.
posted by Decani at 10:26 AM on September 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


See, you're just encouraging them. Parasites shouldn't be encouraged.

Actually, being a jerk to them encourages them more. And it increases the world's supply of jerks by one.
posted by The World Famous at 10:26 AM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I tell the little whippersnappers that pre-Vatican 2 I'd be allowed to burn their heretical asses right there on my lawn.

And then I'd tell them to get off my lawn.
posted by whuppy at 10:27 AM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


World Famous, you've reminded me of another encounter I had -- it was kind of a turnaround, though; I was on a road trip and was hideously lost, and flagged down an elderly couple strolling down the street to ask directions. I was so lost that we all ended up bent over a road map I had in the car trying to suss out what I'd done wrong and the best way to get back on track; it took us all a good few minutes to work out a navigation plan.

But then as I was folding up the map and thanking them profusely, they mentioned that by the way, they were Jehovah's Witnesses and I'd run into them while they were witnessing, would I perhaps like some literature to read, and did I maybe have a few minutes to chat?

I think I blurted out that I was pretty much happy where I was spiritually, "but I'll take a couple pamphlets because turning you down entirely after you've been so helpful just feels unsporting somehow." We all laughed, I took a couple things and we all went on our way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:28 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The World Famous: And I usually offer them a glass of water.

That's actually a really great idea. I'd probably offer them a glass of water as well if my howling beagles weren't making it impossible to carry on a normal conversation with anyone who knocks on our door unannounced.

Maisie: which, granted, isn't hard to do with JWs because the religion is nutty

I don't see how it's any "nuttier" than any other religion or cult, to be quite honest about it -- having been in the JW church myself as a teenager and having been in too many other different churches to count. Saying that the JWs are nuttier than any other religion is like saying that one brand of peanut butter is more nutty than another. Just because they knock on your door doesn't make them fruitcakes.
posted by blucevalo at 10:28 AM on September 27, 2011


we look at that moon-faced child, being dragged around by someone spouting what we regard as essentially dangerous, damaging lunacy

Heh.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:29 AM on September 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Slightly off-topic, but I have to admit that even though I'm an atheist I enjoyed watching two Mormon missionaries getting totally schooled.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:32 AM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


This reads just a little too pat for me. Like one of those conversations you wish you could have rather than one you actually did have.

Given the frequency with which one is proselytised to in some places, you can actually say the things you wish you'd said. Just wait until the next time someone comes up to you.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:32 AM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


People who have the sheer gall to come to my home to try to tell me I am a sinner and that they, and only they, have the key that will save my soul are astonishingly arrogant. He was, in context, very gentle.
posted by theora55 at 10:34 AM on September 27, 2011 [13 favorites]


Also, I agree that door-knockers are most likely not actually interested in a two-way conversation, so probably your best tactic is simply to say 'No thanks, I'm not interested' and be done with it. In my ideal world (which has never worked) I would point out some of the various reasons that, as KathrynT says, it's impossible for the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, and absolutely everyone's take on it, from the Bible-thumping fundy to the laugh-at-the-Sky-God athetist, involves some sort of interpretation based on context and narrative. 2nd Chronicles ends in the middle of a sentence because of a transcription error, for example.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:37 AM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think its smugly superior to knock on my door to try to talk me into a new belief system.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:37 AM on September 27, 2011 [14 favorites]


It's not necessary to call well-meaning people parasites

People trying to spread dark age superstitious dogmatic nonsense are not well-meaning people.
posted by xmutex at 10:39 AM on September 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


They may not be well-meaning people, but in what sense are they parasites?
posted by blucevalo at 10:43 AM on September 27, 2011


2nd Chronicles ends in the middle of a sentence because of a transcription error, for example.

Who are you to question the
posted by griphus at 10:45 AM on September 27, 2011 [14 favorites]


They prey on the weak?
posted by Big_B at 10:46 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


They prey on the weak?

Not to be pedantic or anything, but that would make them predators, not parasites.
posted by The World Famous at 10:48 AM on September 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


People trying to spread dark age superstitious dogmatic nonsense are not well-meaning people.

They aren't? They believe that they have this ultimate answer to all of our problems, and they're just trying to share it.

It could very well be the case that it's ultimately harmful, but I don't see how "doing something harmful" and "being well-meaning" conflict in the slightest.
posted by jcreigh at 10:49 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


xmutex: People trying to spread dark age superstitious dogmatic nonsense are not well-meaning people.

Well-meaning is not the same thing as actual-good-doing. The majority of the religious people I have personally known have been well-meaning, at least.
posted by gilrain at 10:49 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't remember where I heard it but I like the idea of keeping an airhorn by the door and calmly discharging the can as soon as they start speaking and then shutting the door. I'd never actually do it, but I giggle at the thought.
posted by hypersloth at 10:50 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Really? Don't you have taser?
posted by found missing at 10:51 AM on September 27, 2011


hypersloth: I don't remember where I heard it but I like the idea of keeping an airhorn by the door and calmly discharging the can as soon as they start speaking and then shutting the door. I'd never actually do it, but I giggle at the thought.

You need to watch this right now. Trust me. You're welcome. (Meat starts at 0:40.)
posted by gilrain at 10:52 AM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Actually, being a jerk to them encourages them more.

My attempts to have them become members of my Satanic Coven doesn't appear to encourage them at all. They usually flee into the distance, coats standing straight out behind them due to the haste of their departure.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:55 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


With two unfortunate exceptions, my approach has always been to simply say "no thank you" and shut the door. It works rather well, and nobody has to get upset. Everyone goes on about their day largely unmolested.

...the unfortunate exceptions being in one case where I got wrapped up in an hourlong discussion with them, and the other being when one tried to stop me from closing the door. I thought they were taught not to do that; certainly if not they should be, as it's potentially dangerous.
posted by aramaic at 11:00 AM on September 27, 2011


The guy with the airhorn in gilrain's link looks just like David Koresh.
posted by Daddy-O at 11:01 AM on September 27, 2011


My grandmother is a Jehovah's Witness. She's really nice, and really cares about you, and wants you to live forever with God like she thinks she is going to.

So, if she or any of her brothers or sisters knock on your door, tell them respectfully that you are not interested instead of pulling off childish pranks. However misplaced her desire to help you may be, don't treat her worse than you would treat any other person knocking on your door.

(I swear, the hopeless, meaningless snark is the only thing we seem to have left. And if that's the case, maybe armageddon will be a blessing.)
posted by notion at 11:01 AM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have somehow become the designated person in my family to answer the door when the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses come by. My mother is too nice and can't bear to just tell them she isn't interested, and my boyfriend tends to get somewhat impatient (i.e., rude) with them. I just tell them, "we're all atheists here!" and they usually recoil and run away. I once had an older woman ask me if I "was open-minded at all about it." I told her if she had any evidence that her god existed, I would be glad to hear it. That was the end of that.

Now that I have an atheist fish and an "only sheep need a shepherd" bumper sticker on my car, and a "no soliciting" sign on my door, we don't get too many door knockers any more.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:05 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


tell them respectfully that you are not interested instead of pulling off childish pranks.

Childish pranks? What was described here was not a childish prank - it is a classic example of argument by reductio ad absurdum.

Also, if someone knocks on my door and wants to talk to me about an issue that I find important and have thoughts about, why should I not discuss that topic in the way I see fit?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:06 AM on September 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


From the article:
“Do you believe in God at all?” she asked at last. I do not, I said, but I’ve always been fascinated by ultimate questions.

Good for the "Talker". It appears she got some food for thought and I hope she prayed about the interaction and got some answers.

For the record I am not a Jehovah's Witness.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 11:06 AM on September 27, 2011


I'm pretty sure that a wandering tulpa patrols my gated yuppie ghetto à la X-Files and eats Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses because they never come. I wouldn't be upset if they did come to my door, though. I wonder if they make the tulpa stronger.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 11:10 AM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


And I do understand that they think they've found the answer and want to help me. I do. But I am so, so tired of religious people telling me and other atheists endlessly that we are going to hell, that we have no morals, that we are responsible for all the evil in the world, etc., etc., etc. The Pope--who really should know better--blamed atheism for the Nazi regime the other day in a speech. And we have become the all-purpose scapegoat for every Bachmann, Perry, and Palin in the U.S.

I am not the one who needs to be lectured on the importance of being kind and respectful to others. And you Christians are not the oppressed minority here.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:15 AM on September 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


My question to you, Maisie, is: what is the nice way to address Witnesses when you yourself don't believe what they teach?


Well, when they come to my door, I tell them that I was raised as a JW and that I'm an atheist, so I'm not interested and if I ever develop an interest, I'll talk to the members of my family who are Jehovah's Witnesses, thanks anyway and have a good day. Obviously that wouldn't work for everyone.

Anyway, it's not really about being "nice," in my opinion (though people should be nice when it costs them nothing), but rather about being effective. (I know I said "not nice" in my original response, but that was the wrong way to express what I really meant.) When people are visited by Jehovah's Witnesses, I think they should think about what they want to accomplish in the conversation. Do they want the JWs to leave them alone with minimum interaction? Then say, "Not interested, thanks." Do they want to vent their spleens about this fucked up religion that causes terrible harm? Then say, "I'm not interested, thanks, but you might want to give some thought to why it's ok to eat pork but not ok to get a life-saving whole blood transfusion, particularly since you can accept nearly all of the individual components of blood. And how about the way the Society registered as a UN NGO, scarlet beast my ass." Do they want to encourage the person at your door to think about his or her beliefs outside of the constraints of what the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society preaches? Then engage the person at your door in an honest and straightforward discussion.

This is something that hits close to home for me. My immediate and extended family are believers. Some members of my family no longer believe, but they have to make a show of believing because they were baptized as teenagers (once you're baptized, there's no way to officially leave the religion without being shunned by the people who still are Jehovah's Witnesses, and that includes family members). I am in a fortunate position because I was never baptized, so even though I don't believe, no one has to shun me. I think they think that I *might* *maybe* still be a potential convert, HAHAHA. Anyway, I wish I could cause the scales to fall from my mother's eyes because I think that would be the way to deliver the rest of my immediate family from this terrible religion. And believe me, I've been trying for years to get my mom to use her considerable intellect and approach what she's being taught on the level of whether it actually hangs together or not. I've made no progress; it's as though she shuts off her brain when it comes to this stuff.

Anyway, this is an interesting topic. Thanks for posting it, COD.
posted by Maisie at 11:16 AM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I remember when some jesus freaks came to my house. I was mowing the lawn and the two older ladies were just standing on my porch looking at me. Not to be rude, I stopped what I was doing, and greeted them.

After exchanging some pleasantries, they went right to the point:
"What church do you belong to?"
Me: " I don't have one"
"Oh really? You check out ours!"
Me: "no thanks, I am an atheist"
"Well, that's interesting, why is that? You don't believe in a god? You are much too young to think that"
Me: "no, I was Lutheran but I've realized through logic, observation and science that subscribing to religion is a waste of my time, and I would rather bask in lifes glory"
"Really? Because jesus was a really important person, he died for your sins"
Me: "no he died for religious prosecution in the hands of the Romans, besides it was common. Jesus lived like a man, and died like a man"

After a bit back and forth, they finally understood I was a lost cause and decided to continue harassing others. I was polite, but I am not going to be prothesized to on my own lawn debating my belief system.
posted by handbanana at 11:16 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I see no point faffing around with syntax-level stuff when someone is trying to engage you about their beliefs. They don't care about the words, however much they insist they do. You can't logic someone off their path. When I get the Scientologists or Gouranga people talking to me (I live in a flat so no Jehovah's Witnesses) I always try to find out their personal angle, as distinct from whatever sheeping they're doing. Why do you want me to say "Gouranga"? Will it make your cock/clit hard? I let them go when they convince me they have a personal stake in their actions.
posted by fraac at 11:18 AM on September 27, 2011


There is something incredibly inappropriate to me about the idea of someone I've never met coming to MY house, uninvited, at a time that works for them to talk to me, a person they don't know at all about one of the most personal issues possible and then trying to convince me that if I don't already believe what they do, that I am wrong to not do so.

I haven't, mercifully, had any such visitors in quite a while thankfully, but there is part of me that always wants to say in response, "Yes, well, now that we've covered your religious dogma, can I ask you a question? Have you discovered anal sex?"
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:20 AM on September 27, 2011 [14 favorites]


There is no rudeness in discussing religion with someone who has deliberately intruded upon you to discuss religion. It's not impolite to try to convince a missionary their mission is wrong, and indeed, if you have the confidence of your conviction, it would be rude not to engage with them. So long as you are respectful, there's nothing wrong with disagreeing.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:20 AM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Man, most people on MetaFilter should love the JW's more than any religious group out there. While they might think differently than you on every possible religious and moral issue, they don't vote.
posted by resurrexit at 11:21 AM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was just wondering how a couple of atheists would be treated if we went door to door and tried to convert people to atheism. Not this well, I bet.
posted by theredpen at 11:25 AM on September 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


I don't get it. What did he do about his rebellious son?
posted by koeselitz at 11:27 AM on September 27, 2011


Slap*Happy: “So long as you are respectful, there's nothing wrong with disagreeing.”

I think maybe the disrespectful part was they lying.
posted by koeselitz at 11:28 AM on September 27, 2011


I was just wondering how a couple of atheists would be treated if we went door to door and tried to convert people to atheism. Not this well, I bet.

Door to door atheists
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:29 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was just wondering how a couple of atheists would be treated if we went door to door and tried to convert people to atheism. Not this well, I bet.

Religious missionaries are very rarely treated that well, either. If my own experience is any indication, I suspect that a couple of atheists would be treated, overall, just as badly as religious missionaries are. The good news, if you decide to try it, is that your dodgeball skills from elementary school will come in handy when someone throws a brick at you from a 10th-floor balcony. Just remember to always look up.

I don't get it. What did he do about his rebellious son?

Made him do the dishes, as commanded in Leviticus.
posted by The World Famous at 11:29 AM on September 27, 2011


I'm kind of irritated at the guy. Mostly because it feels like he deployed a standard atheist talking point and now feels like he's really clever. He gets some points for using it against people who are at least claiming the bible is to be understood literally (although apparently the official JW position reads some part figuratively) and not against Mormons. I was going to say Catholics, but Mormons have, perhaps unsurprisingly given the history, a fairly nuanced view of the Bible.

Man, most people on MetaFilter should love the JW's more than any religious group out there. While they might think differently than you on every possible religious and moral issue, they don't vote.

I believe they also make up the bulk of imprisoned conscientious objectors. (It's because they're not actually pacifists and are unwilling to go along with the system enough to avoid ending up in prison.)
posted by hoyland at 11:37 AM on September 27, 2011


They believe that they have this ultimate answer to all of our problems, and they're just trying to share it.

Or they believe they will be disowned if they do not participate and they're young and scared.
posted by ODiV at 11:41 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


> It's not like that was my Mom's intention, she just mother'ed the evangelism right out of'em.

I had that happen to me when I was a Mormon missionary in Japan. A wonderful Japanese woman, about 70 years old, invited the two of us in and started feeding us cookies and tea cakes, asked all about us, where we were from, pulled her own photos out, etc.

After about 30 minutes of that, we realized that our weak language skills were no match for her comparatively baroque language and hospitality. We would get a few words into our message and pause to hear her enthusiastic and nostalgic commentary. Our eagerness to listen and somehow empathize became our downfall.

Nibble on some cake. Try again.

Honestly we were so thankful to be out of the heat that we didn't really mind--I mean, we probably knocked on hundreds of doors that week, without any response for the most part--and any welcome was just lovely for beginners like us.

Later on as I was close to leaving the country at the end of my mission, I had a clear sense that I was only really there to teach those who wanted to listen, and what was the point of dragging someone into a discussion anyway? In those late days, if somebody wanted to take a minute to scream about how much they hated Joseph Smith, caucasians, God, salesmen, or whatever, no offense taken and thank you for being honest.

I'm mostly happy that good people like that lady can be found just about anywhere.

(And regarding the article, I have to say it's much more of a challenge to have a studied and open discussion than anything that happens in two doorway visits. He could have told her his plan and objections from the start and may have even received a well-written response from the congregation. Anyway...)
posted by circular at 11:44 AM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Next up, talking to Amway saleswomen about MLM....
posted by ennui.bz at 11:57 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Next up, talking to Amway saleswomen about MLM....

Ironically, I've had an Amway person come to the door. But back in my church going days, it got so bad at Mass that I started assuming that anybody that was nice to me at church was setting me up for the Amway pitch.
posted by COD at 12:00 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never had an Amway person come to the door.
posted by COD at 12:00 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Next up, talking to Amway saleswomen about MLM....

The stories I could tell about unwittingly knocking on doors of Amway reps as a missionary. Even had one follow me around for an evening, telling me how bad my conversation skills sucked. :-)
posted by circular at 12:03 PM on September 27, 2011


By the way, to deal directly with the talking point Mr McGowan deploys:

It's pretty clear to me that, according to Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Dale McGowan emphatically does not have a right to stone his son to death. Once again, let's look at this passage in translation:
18 If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
First of all, it is clear that a father cannot stone his wayward son (or ben soreir, as such a son is referred to in the Rabbinical literature); it must be "all the men of the city" who do the stoning; this may include the father, but it must be all the men. Second, there are further details that make this much less simple. Both father and mother must attest to this, and must testify in front of the elders of the city, apparently saying the same thing.

Furthermore, the Talmud lays out further qualifications in Sanhedrin 71:
He does not become a 'stubborn and rebellious son,' unless he eats meat and drinks wine... If he stole of his father's and ate it in his father's domain, or of strangers and ate it in the domain of the strangers, or of strangers and ate in his father's domain, he does not become a 'stubborn and rebellious son,' — until he steals of his father's and eats in the domain of strangers... If his father desires [to have him punished], but not his mother; or the reverse, he is not treated as a 'stubborn a rebellious son', unless they both desire it... If one of them [his father or his mother] had a hand or fingers cut off, or was lame, dumb, blind or deaf, he does not become a 'stubborn and rebellious son', because it is written, 'then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him', — this excludes those with hands or fingers cut off; 'and bring him out', excluding lame parents; 'and they shall say', excluding the dumb; 'this our son', excluding the blind; 'he will not obey our voice', excluding the deaf. He is admonished in the presence of three and flagellated. If he transgresses again after this, he is tried by a court of twenty three, and cannot be sentenced to stoning unless the first three are present, because it is written, 'this our son', implying, 'this one who was whipped in your presence'.
The Talmud also makes the further qualification that "If his mother is not like his father in voice, appearance and stature, he does not become a rebellious son," because the passage has them saying the son will not obey "our voice."

Given all this, the Talmud states that this law has never been and will never be applied, and then goes on to state that the question here is why the Torah presents us here with "a theoretical chapter."

Jehovah's Witnesses are odd about interpretation, and that's why Mr McGowan was able to catch her out on this. However: if one interprets this passage properly, it is, again, emphatically not a license to stone children.
posted by koeselitz at 12:10 PM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've never had an Amway person come to the door.

No, they're much more insidious than that. One time while shopping at a pet-friendly bookstore, a guy came over and made a fuss about our greyhound. We got to chatting, and we found out he was a vet. I mentioned that I did web design and he said "Oh, really? I was thinking about getting a web site for my practice. Can I get your contact info?"

A month or two later he called me up, asked if he could stop by our place. I don't remember exactly how he put it, but he did a cunning job of leading me to believe he was interested in talking aout a web site without actually saying so. I was just starting out and trying to get a decent portfolio and/or references together, so I was pretty psyched at the opportunity.

He showed up at our door with his wife, which I thought was rather odd... as soon as they were in and seated he broke into the Amway pitch. Bastard.
posted by usonian at 12:13 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


The only Amway people my family ever encountered WERE family -- for a while one of my aunts did Amway. She never did any hard-sell, though, becuase we were family and that would have felt weird. My mother was one of her best customers, actually -- she practically invested in the laundry detergent. I think my mother's attitude was "it functions as detergent, and I get a deal because i'm family, so who cares".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:20 PM on September 27, 2011


Furthermore, the Talmud lays out further qualifications in Sanhedrin 71

The passage in question is centuries older than the Talmud.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:24 PM on September 27, 2011


No, Jehovah's Witnesses -- and any other evangelists -- at my door forfeit all rights to be shown anything more than very basic civility.

I never start conversations about (lack of) religion, and do my very best to stay respectful and civil when drawn into conversations about others' faiths. In contrast, Witnesses knock on the door to my home, press their literature into my hand and do their damnedest to start a conversation about my and their faiths. Their hope is that they can "save" me from my necessarily inferior and possibly evil beliefs. Frankly, when someone has gone to that length to push their beliefs -- and their opinions of my beliefs -- into my day, I see absolutely no reason why I should feel a duty to treat their feelings or their beliefs with kid gloves.

Of course, evangelising right back at them can be a hoot, if you're in the mood. One of the best stories my dad tells is about the time a JW came to his door towards the end of his student days. My dad's first degree is in (Christian) Theology, during which he learned to read Greek and Hebrew and became very familiar with several different versions of the Bible. The story runs that he invited the Witness in, offered tea and cake, and got a Bible down from the shelf. And then another one. And then another one. And then some notes on historical and cultural contexts.

Three hours later, the Witness, visibly shaken and with his interpretation of the texts in shreds, made an excuse and left. Previously a regular in those haunts, he was never seen proselyting in my Dad's neighbourhood again. 1-0 to Dad.

I don't have the education to reprise that performance, but I have twice invited doorstepping Baptists into my home after realising that they were creationists. And then dug out my evolutionary biology notes and dusted off a couple of textbooks. An hour or two later, they at least agreed that the actual theory of evolution -- as opposed to the cartoonishly distorted version that they'd been taught and rightly rejected as nonsense -- was a powerful *potential* explanation for life as we know it. And one of them, in the second group that I spoke to, said that the argument for a "light the blue touchpaper and stand well back" God now seemed a lot stronger, and that the Creationist position didn't seem necessary any more. She got glared at by her friends for that and the meeting died almost immediately. I'd like to think that her tiny grain of understanding led her to seek out further knowledge, and to spread a bit of evidence-based thinking around her social circle. I can never know for sure of course, but probably not.

I will never evangelise, and never try to impose my (lack of) belief on others uninvited. But people who try to start an ideological battle in my home had better be prepared to fight hard to and to suffer some casualties.
posted by metaBugs at 12:24 PM on September 27, 2011 [17 favorites]


Just not sure why the interpretation of Jewish biblical scholars is relevant to me or to JWs.
posted by found missing at 12:25 PM on September 27, 2011


found missing: “Just not sure why the interpretation of Jewish biblical scholars is relevant to me or to JWs.”

It's relevant if you're a religious person holding to the "old testament" who wants to stone your child.

Philosopher Dirtbike: “The passage in question is centuries older than the Talmud.”

Even if you completely write off the Talmud and focus solely on the passage as it appears in Deuteronomy, Mr McGowan and his wife must both be in agreement on stoning their child, they must convince the elders of the city, and the men of the city must do the stoning.
posted by koeselitz at 12:30 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Suppose I'm fed up with Jehovah's Witnesses and door-to-door salespeople knocking on my door at all hours. So I post signs on the edge of my property similar to the "POSTED" signs landowners use in rural areas to keep hunters off their land. The signs clearly say "no soliciting" and "no trespassing." A pair of JWs marches right past my sign and knocks on my door. Do I have the right to make a citizen's arrest of them? If not, can I have the police arrest them?
posted by mattbucher at 12:32 PM on September 27, 2011


Actually, there is nothing about the elder being convinced in that passage. It is more like, if A than (shall) B. Stoned.
posted by found missing at 12:33 PM on September 27, 2011


Heh, metabug, I did exactly what your dad did back in the day, and served tea and cookies with the complications
posted by mumimor at 12:33 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


koeselitz:

Just because the Talmud backpedaled out of that one (and out of pretty much every death penalty) doesn't say anything about how the passage "should" be interpreted. The Talmud's restrictions are clearly not present in the original.
posted by callmejay at 12:38 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Talmud's restrictions are clearly not present in the original.

I love when the word "clearly" comes out in a discussion about legal interpretation.
posted by The World Famous at 12:39 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even if you completely write off the Talmud and focus solely on the passage as it appears in Deuteronomy, Mr McGowan and his wife must both be in agreement on stoning their child, they must convince the elders of the city, and the men of the city must do the stoning.

That interpretation would leave McGowan's argument, that this is immoral, completely intact; I'm not sure what you're arguing about.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:39 PM on September 27, 2011


Philosopher Dirtbike: “That interpretation would leave McGowan's argument, that this is immoral, completely intact; I'm not sure what you're arguing about.”

What I'm arguing about is this: it's curious, more than curious, that a man who does not believe the teachings in a holy book finds it fit to people who do believe the teachings in that holy book how they ought to interpret them.

If you can find me a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, a Jehovah's Witness, or any other person who holds this as a holy text who believes that this passage is actually recommending stoning your children, then we can talk about why. Until then what we're talking about is a problem of interpretation, not morality.
posted by koeselitz at 12:44 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


callmejay: “The Talmud's restrictions are clearly not present in the original.”

What you're saying is that you're not an Orthodox Jew. That's fine; you don't have to believe that the Talmud is pointing to the truth of the Torah. But what about people who do believe that the Talmud is discussing things that are present in the original? For instance, me?
posted by koeselitz at 12:48 PM on September 27, 2011


it's curious, more than curious, that a man who does not believe the teachings in a holy book finds it fit to people who do believe the teachings in that holy book how they ought to interpret them.

Since we're talking about religious traditions: you may or may not be aware that in the Protestant tradition, the words of the Bible are clear enough to be interpreted by anyone, without reference to external teachings or traditions. The Jehovah's Witnesses are part of that tradition, and that's what makes it an effective argument. It would not be a particularly effective argument against a others who may hold different beliefs about exegesis.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:53 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whether it's dad or the town elders doing the stoning does nothing to diminish the point that Dale McGowan made to the JW. She used her own critical thinking skills to determine that stoning children was bad, even though her sacrosanct book would seem to OK the practice.
posted by COD at 12:54 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fuck, there were like a jillion more responses before I finished typing my last response, so now I look hopelessly out-of-date, you persecuting assholes.

Maisie: which, granted, isn't hard to do with JWs because the religion is nutty

I don't see how it's any "nuttier" than any other religion or cult, to be quite honest about it -- having been in the JW church myself as a teenager and having been in too many other different churches to count. Saying that the JWs are nuttier than any other religion is like saying that one brand of peanut butter is more nutty than another. Just because they knock on your door doesn't make them fruitcakes.
posted by blucevalo at 1:28 PM on September 27 [+] [!]


I don't know, I'm not a religious scholar who can say that other religions are less harmful, but it's my belief that this religion is basically a cult. I think the religion is nutty because of the way it harms its followers, which I don't think (??) other religions do quite so directly.

Bluecevalo, you were involved in the religion, so you probably already know about the prohibition on blood transfusions. Those teachings are potentially fatal. In olden times the governing body opposed organ transplants but then later relented. It appears, based on the decree that blood fractions are "a matter of conscience," that they'll be backing off on blood transfusions in the same way. Meanwhile, lots of believers have died because blood transfusions are forbidden because blood should be spilled upon the ground (unless, I guess, it can be split into acceptable fractions for transfusion first? What?).

I don't know how old you are, but maybe you remember praying for the brothers and sisters in Malawi and Mozambique who were persecuted due to "politics." Those people were taught that they should remain separate from the world and not join any political party (even though all that was being asked was that they purchase political party cards -- there was only 1 political party at the time -- that meant nothing other than that they wouldn't be beaten). Meanwhile, it was perfectly ok for Jehovah's Witnesses in Central and South America to bribe government officials out of requiring similar registration so that they wouldn't be persecuted.

I don't know how much family you still have family practicing this religion, but in case you don't have any, let me describe what happens when you grow up in a Jehovah's Witness family. Unlike Catholics or whatever, you don't get baptized at birth. Each person has to decide for him or herself to get baptized. That usually doesn't happen until the candidate is a teenager (or sometimes earlier; you may read inspirational stories in the JW literature about people who knew from, like, 9 that they ready to dedicate themselves to Jehovah). If you've made the decision at 12 or 13 or 14 to get baptized and then later feel that you made a mistake and couldn't live up to your life-long obligation to remain a faithful and steadfast Jehovah's Witness, your choices are to disassociate yourself (where you send a letter to the elders in your congregation denouncing your membership) or get disfellowshipped (by, say, getting caught smoking or drinking or fornicating without sufficiently demonstrating how ashamed you are). Either way, once that happens, you are to be shunned by the members of the congregation, be they your family or friends. How else will you come to appreciate the error of your ways and right yourself so that you can be accepted by the flock again? You may, like me, decline to get baptized, if you're cool with being "bad association that spoils useful habits," in the congregation (meaning that you won't have any friends except for other teenagers who are stuck going to meetings even though they won't want to).

This religion is bad. It divides families. People who grow up as Jehovah's Witnesses are discouraged from seeking worldly secondary education (though maybe that's changed?, idk, my faithful brother eventually got a college degree, though that's a whole other story). People who remain faithful are told to eschew life saving medical procedures, including rejecting same for their minor children. This organization seems to do what it can to keep its members from anything approaching independent thinking. Meanwhile, they want people to peddle their publications for "whatever donation you feel comfortable with," or a set amount in countries where the tax code allows, while the governing body collects donations from the Kingdom Halls "for the worldwide work," to make real estate loans.
posted by Maisie at 12:59 PM on September 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


tell them respectfully that you are not interested instead of pulling off childish pranks.
Childish pranks? What was described here was not a childish prank - it is a classic example of argument by reductio ad absurdum.


It's a childish prank (maybe a childish argument, I'm not sure it even rises to the level of "prank"), because he's ignoring thousands of years of commentary on the interpretation of the texts in question in order to portray them as incomprehensible. When we try to understand hard things, we don't do it by internal inspiration.

It's like cornering a nuclear physicist at a party and showing him some equations and being all "Squigly lines, how do they work?" Or perhaps more accurately cornering a nuclear power plant security guard with some equations and being all "Squigly lines how do they work?" And then going on your blog and saying "WTF, nuclear power plant workers don't understand basic physics!"

Since we're talking about religious traditions: you may or may not be aware that in the Protestant tradition, the words of the Bible are clear enough to be interpreted by anyone, without reference to external teachings or traditions. The Jehovah's Witnesses are part of that tradition, and that's what makes it an effective argument. It would not be a particularly effective argument against a others who may hold different beliefs about exegesis.

This is not generally the Protestant position and it is most emphatically not the Jehovah's Witness position, who have a tradition of authoritative teaching about the meaning of the text by the "Governing Body".
posted by Jahaza at 1:01 PM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


What I'm arguing about is this: it's curious, more than curious, that a man who does not believe the teachings in a holy book finds it fit to people who do believe the teachings in that holy book how they ought to interpret them.

You've just moved the goalposts. He isn't saying he doesn't believe all the teachings in the book, just that there's some stuff in the book that's wrong. Nor does he tell them to interpret the Bible literally, they says that. And the whole point he was making was that there were inconsistencies with their interpretation.
posted by Hoopo at 1:03 PM on September 27, 2011


Childish pranks? What was described here was not a childish prank - it is a classic example of argument by reductio ad absurdum.

I thought the 'childish pranks' remark alluded to the airhorn suggestion.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:10 PM on September 27, 2011


Philosopher Dirtbike: “Since we're talking about religious traditions: you may or may not be aware that in the Protestant tradition, the words of the Bible are clear enough to be interpreted by anyone, without reference to external teachings or traditions. The Jehovah's Witnesses are part of that tradition, and that's what makes it an effective argument. It would not be a particularly effective argument against a others who may hold different beliefs about exegesis.”

This is precisely the point. The argument isn't an argument against the Bible. It's an argument against taking the Bible literally, since it literally (and apparently purposefully) contradicts itself.
posted by koeselitz at 1:11 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is not generally the Protestant position and it is most emphatically not the Jehovah's Witness position, who have a tradition of authoritative teaching about the meaning of the text by the "Governing Body".

Eh? It's one of the defining characteristics of Protestantism. I did, however, look it looks like you're right about the JW - they don't appear to believe in Sola Scriptura.

So I guess it was up to the visitors to explain the Watchtower society's interpretation of that passage beyond "No, you're doing it wrong."
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:13 PM on September 27, 2011


Eh? It's one of the defining characteristics of Protestantism.

Did you even read the wikipedia article you linked to? It does not even remotely support your assertion that "the words of the Bible are clear enough to be interpreted by anyone, without reference to external teachings or traditions" is one of the defining characteristics of Protestantism.
posted by The World Famous at 1:20 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is precisely the point. The argument isn't an argument against the Bible. It's an argument against taking the Bible literally, since it literally (and apparently purposefully) contradicts itself.

It's not even about 'literal'. How do you suggest we take the passage from Deuteronomy 'figuratively'? It the mentioned child stoning a metaphor? The Bible is a historical document, and should be taken as seriously as the Assyrian King Lists or Hammurabi's code. To build a value system around this ancient document would be silly, and that's exactly the point that was being made.

So, I guess we agree?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:21 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't see how it's any "nuttier" than any other religion or cult, to be quite honest about it

I agree that the actual religious beliefs aren't particularly nutty, but the organization itself is of a different kind than most other religious groups. I feel that people who don't have a lot of direct exposure to Jehovah's Witnesses are likely to equate them with Mormons or Catholics. To me they're a lot more culty than and potentially damaging than that.

Jehovah's Witnesses are strongly discouraged from associating with people who are not Witnesses. They're discouraged from reading anything that contradicts the teachings of the Witnesses, and all media that's not from the Watchtower Society is viewed with suspicion. There are three meetings per week that Witnesses are expected to attend totaling five hours, and members are strongly encouraged to spend additional time studying for these meetings, plus time in the door-to-door ministry. They're discouraged from pursuing higher education, unless it's the kind of thing that leads to a career that will support them in the ministry. Those who question the organization or promote views or opinions that are contradictory to the teachings of the Witnesses are expelled from the group. The resulting context is that for members of the group the congregation and the Jehovah's Witness organization is the only social group they're a part of and the only valid source of information and ideas about the world.

And let's not forget that they believe that the world is going to end any day now in a violent cataclysm that only Jehovah's Witnesses will survive, and that they profess to eagerly await that day.
posted by chrchr at 1:22 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's not what "Sola Scriptura" means, Philosopher Dirtbike.

Philosopher Dirtbike: “It's not even about 'literal'. How do you suggest we take the passage from Deuteronomy 'figuratively'? It the mentioned child stoning a metaphor? The Bible is a historical document, and should be taken as seriously as the Assyrian King Lists or Hammurabi's code. To build a value system around this ancient document would be silly, and that's exactly the point that was being made. So, I guess we agree?”

Every thoughtful Jew, Christian, and Muslim that I know of believes this passage is figurative. Moreover, I believe there are good reasons to believe that it's intended as such.

The fact that something is ancient doesn't make it silly any more than the fact that something is modern makes it serious.
posted by koeselitz at 1:25 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eh? It's one of the defining characteristics of Protestantism.

While someone who believes the five Solas is likely a Protestant, there are many people today who are at least arguably Protestants who don't believe them (e.g. Anglicans).

Let's look again at what you set forward as the Protestant position:

Since we're talking about religious traditions: you may or may not be aware that in the Protestant tradition, the words of the Bible are clear enough to be interpreted by anyone, without reference to external teachings or traditions.

As The World Famous points out, the Wikipedia article that you link to itself makes clear that this does not describe Sola Scriptura as it is held by many Protestants. The Calvinist Protestants (E.g. Reformed, Presbyterian, etc.) that hold to the Westminister Confession or are influenced by it (e.g. U.C.C.) hold a position that the Bible can be interepreted by anyone "in a due use of the ordinary means," which includes recourse to teachers (and thus to teaching) outside oneself.
posted by Jahaza at 1:25 PM on September 27, 2011


The World Famous: Did you even read the wikipedia article you linked to? It does not even remotely support your assertion that "the words of the Bible are clear enough to be interpreted by anyone, without reference to external teachings or traditions" is one of the defining characteristics of Protestantism.

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.


That's the way I've always understood Sola Scriptura. If you've got a different definition, you can share it.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:26 PM on September 27, 2011


Hell, you could just look at the third sentence of that Wikipedia article to see that it contradicts the notion that Sola Scriptura means "anyone can interpret the Bible."
posted by koeselitz at 1:27 PM on September 27, 2011


Look at the next sentence, Philosopher Dirtbike. The next sentence.
posted by koeselitz at 1:27 PM on September 27, 2011


It's not even about 'literal'. How do you suggest we take the passage from Deuteronomy 'figuratively'?

I think this is a difference of usage around the word 'literal'-- the American Protestant usage of 'literal' as in 'literal word of God' or whatever doesn't strictly mean 'nothing is figurative,' since I doubt you could find even a single church that believes that all of Jesus's parables were true stories or that Jesus was literally a lamb that was slain. Biblical literalism refers more to the notion of the absolute historicity of the events recounted in scripture as well as their absolute inerrancy in matters moral and philosophical.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:28 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think our definitions of CAN are being mixed up. I'm not saying that Sola Scriptura means that everyone is correct when they interpret the Bible; they may need a teacher to help them understand what's there. But that's only exposition. One can read the scriptures, and what the scripture says is sufficient, without tradition.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:31 PM on September 27, 2011


It does not even remotely support your assertion that "the words of the Bible are clear enough to be interpreted by anyone, without reference to external teachings or traditions"

"1.1.3 Clarity

Clarity
Main article: Clarity of scripture

The Bible presents all doctrines and commands of the Christian faith clearly.[18] God's Word is freely accessible to every reader or hearer of ordinary intelligence, without requiring any special education.[19] Of course, one must understand the language God's Word is presented in, and not be so preoccupied by contrary thoughts so as to prevent understanding.[20] As a result of this, no one needs to wait for any clergy, and pope, scholar, or ecumenical council to explain the real meaning of any part of the Bible."

1.1.4 Efficacy

Efficacy

Scripture is united with the power of the Holy Spirit and with it, not only demands, but also creates the acceptance of its teaching.[22] This teaching produces faith and obedience. Holy Scripture is not a dead letter, but rather, the power of the Holy Spirit is inherent in it.[23] Scripture does not compel a mere intellectual assent to its doctrine, resting on logical argumentation, but rather it creates the living agreement of faith.[24] As the Smalcald Articles affirm, "in those things which concern the spoken, outward Word, we must firmly hold that God grants His Spirit or grace to no one, except through or with the preceding outward Word."[25]
1.1.5 Sufficiency

[edit] Sufficiency

The Bible contains everything that one needs to know in order to obtain salvation and to live a Christian life.[26] There are no deficiencies in Scripture that need to be filled with by tradition, pronouncements of the Pope, new revelations, or present-day development of doctrine.[27]"

It's possible I'm reading something there you're not, but on first glance it looks like that's what it says to me.
posted by Hoopo at 1:32 PM on September 27, 2011


As The World Famous points out, the Wikipedia article that you link to itself makes clear that this does not describe Sola Scriptura as it is held by many Protestants. The Calvinist Protestants (E.g. Reformed, Presbyterian, etc.) that hold to the Westminister Confession or are influenced by it (e.g. U.C.C.) hold a position that the Bible can be interepreted by anyone "in a due use of the ordinary means," which includes recourse to teachers (and thus to teaching) outside oneself.

Yes, but those teachers are not "needed" in the sense we were talking about earlier in the thread (like bringing the Talmud into interpreting Deuteronomy). They are only needed in the sense that you might not "get it" on, say, the first reading of the scriptures. Sola Scriptura says that the information is there, so theoretically, two people reading/discussing the scriptures (as was the situation in the linked blog post) wouldn't "need" any other source. One could argue that they are wrong, but you'd have to do it via Scripture, not via, say, the Talmud.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:36 PM on September 27, 2011


The problem Hoopo is that Baptists and Lutherans with a high view of scripture are not the totality of "the Protestant tradition."
posted by Jahaza at 1:37 PM on September 27, 2011


callmejay: "Just because the Talmud backpedaled out of that one (and out of pretty much every death penalty) doesn't say anything about how the passage "should" be interpreted."

Talmudic interpretation is malleable, but there are many interpretations that are accepted as fact, regardless. Do you know of any Jewish sources that subscribe to a literal interpretation of the passage, Orthodox or otherwise? They may exist, but I do not know of any.
posted by zarq at 1:39 PM on September 27, 2011


I was always nice to the Mormons and JW that came to my door until recently. My bedroom is right near our front door, I was lying in bed reading, I heard someone at my door.

I saw who it was, didn't feel like dealing with anyone, so I stayed there, quietly. About 15 seconds after knocking they started making fun of my screen door. Well, at the time, the door handle had broken off and my husband hadn't fixed it, yet. We had a shoestring through it to hold the door closed so it wouldn't break.

They laughed, and joked, and made fun of us and called us poor. One stated "How broke do you have to be to have a shoestring as a door handle."

Really nice of them. I was so mad I almost screamed through the window at them. Instead, I just sat there wishing my hands would work well enough to hold a screwdriver at that point (I was waiting on hand surgery.)

Screw anyone who comes to my door trying to change my religion. I am done with them. And, I'm not an atheist so no one can even blame my anger at that.
posted by SuzySmith at 1:40 PM on September 27, 2011


Yes, the story reads very pat and unless he recorded it, of course it didn't go down exactly like that. But I don't think that really changes anything. I don't know if he was smug, but he was disingenuous. Nobody likes a Johnny-On-The-Spot debate.

Well first I should say I am a Jehovah's Witness who has had more than my share of encounters with people like this and of course my reading of this is going to be affected by that bias. I hate "gotcha" conversations. It distresses me in any context because I am a huge fan of sincerity.

Of course, I also don't know that his tone with the lady was really as obnoxious as the written narrative, which is designed to make you say "HA"! It's written for a sympathetic audience and that might make it seem worse to me than it really would have been had it been me at his door.


“Well it’s just full of answers, and it has these, these footnotes that point to places in the Bible. Did you know that?”

She did!

“So I started looking through the Bible because…” I paused for effect and lowered my voice. “Well, my family is having some difficulties, and we could really use some answers right now.”


No, he's lying, man I HATE that. He has someone who is being pleasant to him and giving him wide room to make whatever points he wants to make. He could have made the exact same points and just as effectively without lying (well, maybe not as interesting to his readers). He could have said that the book she left encourages people to go to the Bible and he has some problems with using the Bible to solve problems due to contradictions and cruelty. Then he could have asked her the questions he asked and tried to lead her to the same conclusions about the verse in Matthew and what Jesus said and about the commandment calling for a disobedient son to be stoned and the implications of that. I get that it was important for him to lead her there using her own "critical thinking" as someone put it, but to me and probably to her it comes off more oppressive than illuminating, and best just to move on from.

You brought the answer to our problem right to our door, and I’m so grateful.


"Our problem"..."our door"..."I'm so grateful", this kind of thing may be why he comes off as smug and disingenuous. There is no we or "our" in this one-sided debate; one person doesn't even know they're in a debate yet.
Of course, I can read this without having to think of answers on the spot. And there is also the point made by several, that you don't have to be fair or civil to someone who comes to your door to attempt to convert you to their religion, as it is the proselytizer who is in the wrong here. For me the lying just starts things off very poorly and unnecessarily (I have had numerous conversations with atheists and one dear deist that did not involve lying or conversions). He also lies throughout the conversation, although I may just be misreading.

As for the specific points he raises, well, I never know what the point of getting into that is when it's been made so clear that no honest discussion is in the offing.

So I guess it was up to the visitors to explain the Watchtower society's interpretation of that passage beyond "No, you're doing it wrong."


Some things that seem obvious to me now would not have seemed so if I were at the door slowly realizing someone is trying to have a go at me, after first drawing me in with a sympathetic plea. As for taking the Bible literally and how to interpret it, I would like to say (and I think the JW lady at the door was also saying this) that we think the Bible interprets itself, as in, to know what a scripture means you must look at the context and other related scriptures. So everyone should have access to the Bible.

"the absolute historicity of the events recounted in scripture as well as their absolute inerrancy in matters moral and philosophical"


Yes, as one of our books put it: "[Jehovah's Witnesses] rely on both the Greek and the Hebrew Scriptures and take them literally except where the expressions or settings obviously indicate that they are figurative or symbolic."
posted by Danila at 1:43 PM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


where the expressions or settings obviously indicate that they are figurative or symbolic

Interesting. This is perhaps 100% of the material.
posted by found missing at 1:50 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really, really believe no one ever had a change of heart over a conversation like this.

Let me address this -- there are only two ways these people will EVER have a change of heart. This is the first, and most likely. The second is, they don't have to have the conversation, because they changed their own heart. That's what I had to do, and because of it I didn't get my head screwed on right until college.

I think the guy did it the best way possible. I cannot think of a thing he could have done better.
posted by JHarris at 1:51 PM on September 27, 2011


There is no we or "our" in this one-sided debate; one person doesn't even know they're in a debate yet.

To be fair, Danila, the person who's getting visited by the Witness is also placed at a disadvantage, because one person doesn't even know that what they believe and know to be true is "wrong". At least, the nice person whom they've never met is telling them that what they know to be true is wrong.

No, the missionary doesn't come out and say that, but the implication is still there -- a stranger you've never met is challenging your perception of some very serious and complicated topics, whether you wanted these topics challenged or not. For the person answering the door, that can indeed be off-putting.

However, you're right that dealing with this situation tactfully is still the ideal outcome. One that not everyone always rises to, but when one can (and I'm looking at both the "slam-the-door-on-the-visitor-while-cussing" homemakers and the "try to stop them from shutting the door" missionaries as examples of "what NOT to do"), it goes best all around.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:52 PM on September 27, 2011


where the expressions or settings obviously indicate that they are figurative or symbolic

Interesting. This is perhaps 100% of the material.


100%? Nah. Maybe 80%.

I cannot think of a thing he could have done better.

He could have not lied to her. That would have been better.
posted by The World Famous at 1:53 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Danila, I appreciate that you're venturing outside of Society-approved websites and engaging in intelligent discussion. I know from my family that what you're doing is somewhat discouraged. I hope you will continue to make your own decisions about what to read and then make your own decisions about how to interpret the things that you read. Be well.
posted by Maisie at 1:53 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


However, he was picking on an amateur, so maybe it was just like shooting fish in a barrel.

C'mon. That was the very definition of "shooting fish in a barrel." Put the OT and NT together and you have a mess of contradictions and outdated/outlandish advice for everyone.

The amateurs are flummoxed by honest, logical questions, but the pros (clergy) can dismiss these scriptural conundrums pretty easily. With magic.

"Our problem"..."our door"..."I'm so grateful", this kind of thing may be why he comes off as smug and disingenuous. There is no we or "our" in this one-sided debate; one person doesn't even know they're in a debate yet.

...

He could have not lied to her. That would have been better.

Yeah, that. I think if I had any problem with this guy (which I really don't, I guess) it's that he was fraudulent in his approach. He sold the JW a false bill of goods, i.e. he professed to be honestly interested, when he was certainly not.

Then turning that fraud into a blog post on a self-promotional commercial site? Yeah, it's a little sleazy.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:54 PM on September 27, 2011


Maisie: This religion is bad. It divides families.

A lot of religion is bad. A lot of religion divides families. I can speak firsthand about the effects of cults and religion on my own life and on my family and on my marriage, which most religions won't recognize because it's with another man (the horror).

Believe me, I don't discount that JW has cultic tendencies (and may even be a cult, for all I know). All I'm saying is that I don't see how JW is materially worse in its effects and impact than any other organized religion. My teenage years were fucked up by JW teachings. But my teenage years were fucked up even more by fundie teachings, Catholic teachings, and Mormon teachings. So far as my own experience is concerned, they can all go to hell.

chrchr: They're discouraged from pursuing higher education, unless it's the kind of thing that leads to a career that will support them in the ministry.

Yes, I know. I was told by my JW mentors that if I didn't become a missionary and give up my pipe dream of going to college that I would be subject to eternal damnation. But there are also fairly significant anti-intellectual strains in other religions. JWs are not unique in that respect. I don't disagree, though, that JWs actively dissuade people from pursuing higher education.

In my way of thinking, even if they play funny games with UN membership stuff, JWs at least do not see it as a calling to directly insert themselves into American politics, the way that Catholics and Mormons and fundies do. As a result, JWs have far, far less of a "nutty" impact on me personally than Catholics and Mormons and fundies. I don't pretend to know their impact on anyone else's life, though, so I probably should have made it obvious that I was speaking only for myself.
posted by blucevalo at 1:55 PM on September 27, 2011


Well first I should say I am a Jehovah's Witness who has had more than my share of encounters with people like this and of course my reading of this is going to be affected by that bias. I hate "gotcha" conversations. It distresses me in any context because I am a huge fan of sincerity.

If there's one thing Joseph Smith is known for, it's sincerity.
posted by odinsdream at 1:56 PM on September 27, 2011


mismatch
posted by found missing at 1:57 PM on September 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I have a very simple solution: if I'm not expecting anyone, I don't answer my door. I mean, 99% of the time thats going to mean a conversation I don't want to have.

If it's actually important (fire, etc) they'll do more than just knock.

I also don't answer my phone if I don't recognize the number. I'm not somehow obligated to talk to people in my home.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:01 PM on September 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


J... Joseph Smith?
posted by shakespeherian at 2:02 PM on September 27, 2011


Actually, in Sarajevo I ran into a Jehova's Witness out leafletting. I simply paraphrased a bit of the Koran, the verse that says, 'To you your religion, to me mine..'
It worked.
Here when they have come to my door, I greet them in Bosnian and don't speak English.
I live in a secured building now. Fate in the form of a Bosnian speaking Witness or LDS person is unlikely to catch up to me.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:04 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Charles Taize Russell's reputation for sincerity (about which I have no notion) would seem more relevant.
posted by Jahaza at 2:04 PM on September 27, 2011


J... Joseph Smith?

He's a fake and he doesn't know the territory!
posted by The World Famous at 2:11 PM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Some things that seem obvious to me now would not have seemed so if I were at the door slowly realizing someone is trying to have a go at me, after first drawing me in with a sympathetic plea.

But that is exactly how I feel when JW's (insert religion here) come to MY door.
posted by futz at 2:20 PM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


J... Joseph Smith?

American Moses...
posted by mikelieman at 2:20 PM on September 27, 2011


Maisie: This religion is bad. It divides families.

A lot of religion is bad. A lot of religion divides families. I can speak firsthand about the effects of cults and religion on my own life and on my family and on my marriage, which most religions won't recognize because it's with another man (the horror).

Believe me, I don't discount that JW has cultic tendencies (and may even be a cult, for all I know). All I'm saying is that I don't see how JW is materially worse in its effects and impact than any other organized religion. My teenage years were fucked up by JW teachings. But my teenage years were fucked up even more by fundie teachings, Catholic teachings, and Mormon teachings. So far as my own experience is concerned, they can all go to hell.

chrchr: They're discouraged from pursuing higher education, unless it's the kind of thing that leads to a career that will support them in the ministry.

Yes, I know. I was told by my JW mentors that if I didn't become a missionary and give up my pipe dream of going to college that I would be subject to eternal damnation. But there are also fairly significant anti-intellectual strains in other religions. JWs are not unique in that respect. I don't disagree, though, that JWs actively dissuade people from pursuing higher education.

In my way of thinking, even if they play funny games with UN membership stuff, JWs at least do not see it as a calling to directly insert themselves into American politics, the way that Catholics and Mormons and fundies do. As a result, JWs have far, far less of a "nutty" impact on me personally than Catholics and Mormons and fundies. I don't pretend to know their impact on anyone else's life, though, so I probably should have made it obvious that I was speaking only for myself.
posted by blucevalo at 4:55 PM on September 27 [+] [!]


I don't mean to get into a debate about what religion is the "worst;" I think we actually agree on the main point that unchecked religious beliefs (especially fundamentalist beliefs) are harmful. If you have experience with more divisive religions than Jehovah's Witnesses, ok, I don't but I'm interested in hearing what you have to say. All I was saying is that in my experience, this religion is harmful to the people who follow it, all while advertising that it will bring about a better way of life. Whatever your experience is, I'm glad that it's behind you now (even though that means -- horrors! -- that you're in an unholy same-sex marriage, of all things!). It makes me happy that you've overcome your youthful indoctrination. I hope that someday my parents and siblings will be able to say the same.
posted by Maisie at 2:21 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


If there's one thing Joseph Smith is known for, it's sincerity.

....I believe that in your zeal to make a joke, you may have overlooked your joke's factual accuracy.


Joseph Smith was the Mormons, dude.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:21 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


there are many people today who are at least arguably Protestants who don't believe them (e.g. Anglicans)

I don't know about Anglicans as an example here. I'm pretty sure they're central to Anglicanism as well, or at the very least many Anglicans do and the debate exists within the Anglican Communion itself.
posted by Hoopo at 2:30 PM on September 27, 2011


This is getting pretty far afield from the FPP, but I find Anglicanism to be pretty interesting compared to pretty much the whole rest of Protestantism, since it's one of the few non-Catholic non-Orthodox Christian traditions that didn't come from the Reformation. They're really only 'Protestant' because there's not another category for them to fit into.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:35 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Epic lulz!

I've no serious comment on people abandoning religion since afaik my parents and grand parents were all atheists. I think however that some overestimate the importance of science exposition in killing religion, well evolution in particular. I'd imagine that reading Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, Peter Singer, Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, etc. works just fine. StarTrek, Dr. Who, etc. all deserve credit as well. For fun, I'll even conjecture that all openly atheist role model types have dechristianized roughly the same constant fraction of their young readership.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:35 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


To be fair, Danila, the person who's getting visited by the Witness is also placed at a disadvantage, because one person doesn't even know that what they believe and know to be true is "wrong". At least, the nice person whom they've never met is telling them that what they know to be true is wrong.

No, the missionary doesn't come out and say that, but the implication is still there -- a stranger you've never met is challenging your perception of some very serious and complicated topics, whether you wanted these topics challenged or not. For the person answering the door, that can indeed be off-putting.


Off-putting, yes I can see that. To us it is necessary and it is what Jesus did which made some people very uncomfortable. And as imperfect people it is hard to do anything just like Jesus did, so there will be times when we may come off as tactless or manipulative. I too would feel uncomfortable if on some unrelated thread here someone decided to just engage me on religious topics especially since now I'm afraid there's a target on my back. It wouldn't matter how sincere it was, so I get that. I accept that not everyone is going to be reached through that avenue.

I'm not somehow obligated to talk to people in my home.

I'm also not big on answering my door or telephone either, and will confess that very recently I almost didn't answer when I saw that it was Witnesses. Because do I really have to cause I really don't feel like it and they'd been by several times even though I TOLD them I am already a Witness and it's 9:30 in the morning what if they want to have a long conversation...but I did answer as I felt really obligated and thankfully it was nice. I felt obligated because they were my sisters, and I also feel obligated to be polite to Mormons because I would want the same.

But that is exactly how I feel when JW's (insert religion here) come to MY door.


I am sorry. I also think any "gotchas" are wrong no matter who is doing it, and dishonesty is always wrong. I have had Mormons come to my door and attempt to "get" me with a leading question meant to show I didn't understand something or wasn't living my life right, and I have no doubt that Witnesses may have done this too. It's easy to slip into that kind of "salesman" behavior when you want someone to get from point A to point B, and fail to see the person who is there as deserving of a dignified approach and not tactics.

I hope you will continue to make your own decisions about what to read and then make your own decisions about how to interpret the things that you read. Be well.

Thank you for your well-wishes Maisie.
posted by Danila at 2:37 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think this is a difference of usage around the word 'literal'-- the American Protestant usage of 'literal' as in 'literal word of God' or whatever doesn't strictly mean 'nothing is figurative,' since I doubt you could find even a single church that believes that all of Jesus's parables were true stories or that Jesus was literally a lamb that was slain. Biblical literalism refers more to the notion of the absolute historicity of the events recounted in scripture as well as their absolute inerrancy in matters moral and philosophical.

Well, I suspected there was something to the word historicity as it was used here. The problem I run into is saying, aw, gee, the parables Jesus taught were figurative, but everything else is "historicitic" or something. How do you tell which is figurative and which has historicity? I mean, much of the Bible may be parables told by the writer. The pretense of modern Christians to know the origins, sacredness, and historicity of a book pieced together from a number of very old, partial manuscripts screams disingenuity.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:41 PM on September 27, 2011


Atheist: Hah! Your religious beliefs are full of logical holes. How can you possibly believe it all.

Believer: No, there are no logical holes. Any holes were patched up long ago with further beliefs.

Atheist: How about this one? It is a total contradiction.

Believer: No, one is real, the other figurative.

Atheist: Oh.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:44 PM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


The pretense of modern Christians to know the origins, sacredness, and historicity of a book pieced together from a number of very old, partial manuscripts screams disingenuity.

How educated and scholarly would a modern Christian have to be in order for you not to think they're disingenuous? There is some level of analysis where assertions about the nature of canonized works is something other than disingenuous, isn't there?
posted by The World Famous at 2:48 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meh. I was once a firebrand Christian, now I'm a logic warrior. On more than one occasion I've been stumbling out of a bar at some time in the early hours and met a street preacher (they're common here) who opens with something like "Are you happy with your life?" or some such. Anyway, it normally goes something like this:

Them: The Bible is the word of God.
Me: The perfectly preserved word of the creator of the universe?!
Them: Yes, the Bible is the word of God.
Me: I thought the Bible was written by men.
Them: Yes, it was, but God commanded them what to write, it is his word.
Me: That's weird.
Them: I know, it really is... the word of God right there for us to read, how cool is that?
Me: No I meant... it's weird. Did God make some mistakes or something?
Them: No, the Bible doesn't have contradictions... though many people think so, they just don't know how to read the Bible.
Me: Well, in what order was Jesus tempted by Satan?
Them: Well Matthew tells us...
Me: And Luke tells us...
Them: Yes but...
Me: So the word of God is unsure?
Them: No but...
Me: I find it important to be sure when commiting myself to something upon which the fate of my eternal soul rests.
Them: Yes, you should.
Me: So which is it?

Then I get bored and go on to provide example after example of stone-age thinking in the Bible, then thank them for their time but tell them "Sorry, I'm not superstitious" and walk off, feeling smug that I, despite having drank ten pints of cider, have just out-Bibled three people who do this thing for a living.

If they're not willing to objectively assess their own assertions, I'm not willing to hear them.
posted by dougrayrankin at 2:48 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


He's a fake and he doesn't know the territory!

You can talk, you can talk, you can bicker, you can talk ...
posted by mrgrimm at 2:52 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, I suspected there was something to the word historicity as it was used here. The problem I run into is saying, aw, gee, the parables Jesus taught were figurative, but everything else is "historicitic" or something. How do you tell which is figurative and which has historicity? I mean, much of the Bible may be parables told by the writer. The pretense of modern Christians to know the origins, sacredness, and historicity of a book pieced together from a number of very old, partial manuscripts screams disingenuity.

How so? I mean, I agree with you that a lot of the narrative in the Bible shouldn't be taken as intended to be read as historic events, but a fundie who uses certain contextual clues to arrive at a conclusion regarding what is and what isn't historical, even if the scope of figurativity is far narrower than yours or mine, isn't being disingenuous. The Gospel of Luke seems, at face value, to be a sincere letter written by a dude named Luke telling a true story in which a dude named Jesus gathers people around and is like 'There was a man with two sons....' Reading one as figurative and another as factual may be incorrect, but it isn't disingenuous.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:53 PM on September 27, 2011


shakespeherian: "The Gospel of Luke seems, at face value, to be a sincere letter written by a dude named Luke telling a true story in which a dude named Jesus gathers people around and is like 'There was a man with two sons....'"

I've always liked Umberto Eco's take on it:
"Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are a bunch of practical jokers who meet somewhere and decide to have a contest. They invent a character, agree on a few basic facts, and then each one’s free to take it and run with it. At the end, they’ll see who’s done the best job.

The four stories are picked up by some friends who act as critics: Matthew is fairly realistic, but insists on that Messiah business too much; Mark isn’t bad, just a little sloppy; Luke is elegant, no denying that; and John takes the philosophy a little too far. Actually, though, the books have an appeal, they circulate, and when the four realize what’s happening, it’s too late. Paul has already met Jesus on the road to Damascus, Pliny begins his investigation ordered by the worried emperor, and a legion of apocryphal writers pretend also to know plenty….

It all goes to Peter’s head; he takes himself seriously. John threatens to tell the truth, the poor man is seeing things: Help, there are locusts all over my bed, make those trumpets stop, where’s all this blood coming from? The others say he’s drunk, or maybe it’s arteriosclerosis…

Who knows, maybe it really happened that way?”

From Focault's Pendulum.

Maisie, I'm glad you're expanded upon your initial comments in so much depth. Thanks.
posted by zarq at 3:05 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


"logic warrior" LOL.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 3:09 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd just like to echo the statement that the witnesses' church is, at best, "a bit culty". I've knowingly met three ex-witnesses, each of whom had been shunned by their community and cut off from their families. One is a good friend of mine. She was chucked out of the church and effectively disowned by her family for the crime of having a stable, loving and sexually active relationship with an outsider. Her family hadn't allowed her to go to university, so as well as suddenly having no community and no family, she had very limited job prospects and very little spare cash to fall back on. If she dumped the boy, she could have it all back.

She's doing fine now: she has a decent job and is saving for uni, a new circle of friends who love her, and a place to live with the boyfriend. But no contact from her family or former friends, who apparently risk being shunned themselves if they're too friendly toward her. As I said, she's one of three that I've knowingly met, and in different parts of the country so it's not just one weird parish. I happily assume that any given Witness I meet is a good person, but the institution horrifies me. And that's without the madness about refusing life-saving blood products for their children when they get sick.

Here when they have come to my door, I greet them in Bosnian and don't speak English.
Hah, I once spent a summer selling stuff door to door.* One door revealed a nervous-looking asian woman who struggled through limited vocabulary and a strong Japanese accent to explain that she was new in the country and didn't know much English. I made my slow and clearly enunciated apologies and left, marking her as "don't re-visit" on our little list. Later that afternoon, I ran into her in a shop where she was chatting in fluent English with a strong Welsh accent. Top marks.

*Yes, I know. Plenty of people were rude to me, and I mostly agreed with them.
posted by metaBugs at 3:10 PM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is some level of analysis where assertions about the nature of canonized works is something other than disingenuous, isn't there?

If you say so.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:24 PM on September 27, 2011


There is some level of analysis where assertions about the nature of canonized works is something other than disingenuous, isn't there?

If you say so.


I'm actually asking that question. If you think the answer is no, can you explain why?
posted by The World Famous at 3:33 PM on September 27, 2011


I'm creator and master of the universe. I've the entirety of creation at my disposal. I would like to be sure that everyone understands my desires and believes in me. So I have a bunch of different people write different books at different times from stories that are handed down over time in a bunch of different languages containing seemingly contradictory stories in hopes that some people will spend enough time puzzling out the "true meaning" of all this text and then convince enough other people that their interpretation is correct. That way, my most beloved creation will live good lives.

Hmmm? I could have been unambiguous. I could have used stone. I could have used a universal language (after I created it.) Or I could have carved it into the brains of every borning person. Or I could write it in the sky daily with fire so no one would miss it.

I guess I better make up a reason for those learned men to give in case someone asks why I didn't do something more obvious. Something about making it "require faith", because it's so much more compelling and interesting if some people get it and some don't. I like the idea that some people will do good and some bad, and some are going to hell and some to heaven. I also like that some people will insist that they have the truth, and others insist they have a different truth. It satisfies my desire to have winners and losers.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:43 PM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm actually asking that question. If you think the answer is no, can you explain why?

On another thread about religion (protection of child molesters by the RCC), I asserted that the RCC had done heinous things in the past. I had a defender of the Catholic hierarchy ask me for examples.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:46 PM on September 27, 2011


Instead of being clever about it, Mental Wimp, can you just say what your point is? You seem to making a lot of assumptions and then jumping to a conclusion that is, at best, implied rather than stated. What is your conclusion, and what facts and analysis support it?

On another thread about religion (protection of child molesters by the RCC), I asserted that the RCC had done heinous things in the past. I had a defender of the Catholic hierarchy ask me for examples.

I don't doubt that that happened. How does that support your assertion that it is impossible for anyone, no matter how scholarly or educated and no matter what their assertions about the nature of canonized writings are, to make any assertions of any kind regarding writings that have been canonized?
posted by The World Famous at 3:48 PM on September 27, 2011


(without being disingenuous, that is)
posted by The World Famous at 4:06 PM on September 27, 2011


When religious proselytisers come to my door I offer them something to eat or drink and tell them no thank you, but good luck out there. But I couldn't be less concerned about how other people treat them. If Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons were sincerely opposed to rude and disrespectful behaviour, they wouldn't be responsible for so much of it. Their mission is outrageous. Their habits are annoying. Let them enjoy the consequences of the interactions they initiate so obnoxiously and so very, very often. This man owes them nothing (they owe him an apology) and was more than nice enough.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:12 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm creator and master of the universe. I've the entirety of creation at my disposal. I would like to be sure that everyone understands my desires and believes in me. So I have a bunch of different people write different books at different times from stories that are handed down over time in a bunch of different languages containing seemingly contradictory stories in hopes that some people will spend enough time puzzling out the "true meaning" of all this text and then convince enough other people that their interpretation is correct.

Well, quite. I've always liked The five marks of a holy book.
posted by pw201 at 4:18 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Damn, late to the party as usual. Like Maisie, I was raised a Witness, but blew off getting baptized when I the full weight of its significance finally dawned on me.
Always one to hedge my bets, I had friends outside the Organization, so leaving wasn't all that difficult. I enjoy a distant, but fairly healthy relationship with the rest of my believing family.
But I've only recently began exploring the reasons I never fully bought in to begin with. There's definitely something sinister about Governing Body...although the rank and file seem nice enough.

A few years ago, I was waiting for a bus and woman approached, identified herself as a JW and wound up her spiel. I didn't think she was a terrible person but I really didn't want to discuss religion with someone I don't know, as I believe personal salvation is just that: Personal.

So, I stopped her and told her that I had been raised in the Hall and had left. I could see her switching gears to re-engage me, so I basically said the first thing (and probably the most dickish thing) that came to mind, "Lady--basically, I'm a goat."

She recoiled like she'd been slapped, leading to a long awkward moment until the bus came...
posted by black8 at 4:51 PM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


On another thread about religion (protection of child molesters by the RCC), I asserted that the RCC had done heinous things in the past. I had a defender of the Catholic hierarchy ask me for examples.

I'm not seeing the connection between that and "the nature of canonized works". I mean...one's literature, the other's a political structure.

It looks a bit like you're equating the physical document "The Constitution", and....Congress.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:14 PM on September 27, 2011


she bested Jesus by coming back

That alone was worth the price of admission.
posted by buzzv at 5:55 PM on September 27, 2011


What you're saying is that you're not an Orthodox Jew. That's fine; you don't have to believe that the Talmud is pointing to the truth of the Torah. But what about people who do believe that the Talmud is discussing things that are present in the original? For instance, me?

I'd say that you're kidding yourselves. The garden of Eden can be metaphorical. The passage about ben sorer u'moreh is just a law. Ditto for the parts about how men who have sex with men should be executed, etc. etc. You can tell yourselves that it doesn't really mean what it says, but it's right there in black and white, and it's obviously not being "figurative."
posted by callmejay at 6:40 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


callmejay, are you basing that assessment on a thorough analysis of source texts, historical commentary, linguistic and literary analysis, and other relevant factors and scholarship, or are you just taking the canonized text at face value and interpreting it according to what seems clear to you based on your unaided modern understanding?

Using the word "obviously" when describing your interpretation of an ancient text translated into another language without any other accompanying scholarship seems a little, I don't know, lame.
posted by The World Famous at 7:07 PM on September 27, 2011


What' the metaphor about looking at Voldemort in the shower supposed to mean? I get a whiff of homophobic leering, but my familiarity with the Harry Potter canon is only casual, so maybe there's a subtext I'm not getting that makes this something other than a fag joke.
posted by layceepee at 7:10 PM on September 27, 2011


Had a lovely pair of JWs come to my door this summer. I told them that I wasn't interested, and the older lady said, "Ok, just one question though, if you don't mind - have you ever wondered if the Bible was really the Word of God?"

"No."

"You haven't? You mean you believe it is?"

"No."

That really threw her off, and she let me close the door with no further questions.

(They still came back, though, but I opened the door with my nakedness rather hastily wrapped in a robe and told them rather brusquely that I worked nights, and they left me alone after that. I guess unbelief is curable; nudity isn't.)
posted by restless_nomad at 7:55 PM on September 27, 2011


restless_nomad, have you heard the word of the Lord today?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:09 PM on September 27, 2011


It took him a minute to figure out that's what they were doing there, and when he did he politely but firmly excused himself by saying, "I really can't talk right now, because I'm naked and in the middle of having sex." They backed away with profuse apologies and he shut the door.

A friend once told me this happened to his dad, only his dad really was having sex and answered the door stark naked with a boner. They left quickly.

Googling 'Jehovah’s Witness boner' brings up this: Scaring Jehovah's Witnesses
posted by homunculus at 8:16 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm all for being firm with proselytizers but that's ridiculous.
posted by ODiV at 9:18 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


My cousin married a guy who got raised JW, but he's not a believer and I have no idea if he got baptized (I'm guessing no)? I'm told his grandfather was a Big Deal with the JW's, but his family seems to be... in and out on practicing it. My cousin-in-law got a college degree and his parents/sister/her family were there for graduation and later on the wedding, and when they're "off" on their practice they're the type to call a lot. But I'm told* that when they're "on" on the religion, he gets shunned. Some of his relatives wouldn't come to the wedding, which definitely pissed CIL off.

I don't answer my door unless I'm expecting someone (better call ahead first, folks!), so the only time I've dealt with the door-to-door religions are when they knock right before my friend shows up, or as I'm walking out the door. They have a knack for showing up when I'm skimpily dressed in a tank top and gym shorts, somehow.

My ex told me that at some point in his life he got his friends together, they all got naked and brewed up a giant bowl of red Kool-Aid, and someone had a sword. When the JW's showed up, ex answered the door naked, holding a sword, with the circle of naked blood worshippers clearly seen behind him. After the JW's left, everyone put on their clothes and went home, and ex cleaned up the Kool-Aid and sword and waited for the cops to come. I kinda wonder if this actually happened, but it's an amusing story anyway.

* though it's been heavily discouraged by my aunt that They Do Not Talk About These Things So Don't Ask, I pretty much hear this stuff through my aunt/mother rather than from them directly.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:25 PM on September 27, 2011


Hey, I'm reading Parenting Beyond Belief right now for the first time...! need some advice for navigating these waters. Thanks for this. A church group came to our home last year after we'd recently moved in, it was - awkward - but we were polite as usual of course.
posted by bdragon at 9:29 PM on September 27, 2011


War of words breaks out aming Jehovah's Witnesses: "The official magazine for Jehovah's Witnesses has described those who leave the church as 'mentally diseased', prompting an outcry from former members and insiders concerned about the shunning of those who question official doctrine.

"An article published in July's edition of The Watchtower warns followers to stay clear of 'false teachers' who are condemned as being 'mentally diseased' apostates who should be avoided at all costs. 'Suppose that a doctor told you to avoid contact with someone who is infected with a contagious, deadly disease,' the article reads. "You would know what the doctor means, and you would strictly heed his warning. Well, apostates are "mentally diseased", and they seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings.' "

Good to know that the JWs would classify me as mentally diseased even if I weren't already a homosexual.

But then again, so would the Catholic Church (the church I was baptized into as an infant), which considers homosexual activity "intrinsically and gravely disordered."
posted by blucevalo at 9:47 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Instead of being clever about it, Mental Wimp, can you just say what your point is?

I said it above. My point with the story about the RCC is that the question itself was disingenuous. Anyone who is busy defending the RCC hierarchy in detail doesn't need to be reminded of the atrocities committed by the RCC over the years. The only point is to force me to recite the list, so that they can use the lawyerly trick of casting doubt on the relevance of each particular to the obvious overall pattern in hopes of obfuscating that pattern.

I believe that the train of logic I outlines is quite obvious to anyone without a burning need born of faith to deny its compelling conclusion. There is no way that present evidence can verify that the motley collection of writings currently canonized by various Christian factions in all their various forms is somehow the word of a supernatural creature. It is strictly an act of "faith", i.e., willfully believing something not in evidence by any usual application of logic. I would call that "pretense" or, less charitably, "disingenuity." Believers will disagree with my assertion reflexively, regardless of the obviousness of the assertion. They have to, else they wouldn't be "believers", would they? Kinda makes "discussion" of the point pointless.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:51 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


How so? I mean, I agree with you that a lot of the narrative in the Bible shouldn't be taken as intended to be read as historic events, but a fundie who uses certain contextual clues to arrive at a conclusion regarding what is and what isn't historical, even if the scope of figurativity is far narrower than yours or mine, isn't being disingenuous.

The issue is much more than just a "scope of figurativity". The way you're telling it, Fundamentalists read the Bible and try to figure out what it says, applying some kind of critical heuristic to tell the 'figurative' parts from the 'literal' parts. But this isn't what they (or anyone, really) does. People, especially believers who have a stake in what is said, read the Scriptures looking for things to bolster their own belief system. That is, they already have a religious belief, and they figure out which parts are 'literal', or 'figurative', or 'for a different time', or 'prophesy' based on what they already believe. A good example of this is all the 'prophesies' that Christians talk about in the Old Testament foretelling Jesus' death. See Psalm 22. How do they know they are prophesies? What makes them say, for instance, that verse 18 is prophesy, while verse 12 ("Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.") is not?

The answer: Because they already believe that Jesus was prophesied. So verse 12 can't be a prophesy because nothing having to do with bulls happened at the crucifixion. But they can point to a story in the New Testament about lots being thrown, so verse 18 is a prophesy! This isn't disingenuous, really, but is a form of self-deception, and an argument can be made that this is intellectual dishonesty. Let me be clear: I think everyone is susceptible to this problem to varying extents. But this problem is at the core of a lot of reasoning about religious texts.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:38 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


A friend once told me this happened to his dad, only his dad really was having sex and answered the door stark naked with a boner. They left quickly.

Well, to be honest, if they'd come knocking on the door only five minutes sooner....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:17 AM on September 28, 2011


How do they know they are prophesies? What makes them say, for instance, that verse 18 is prophesy, while verse 12 ("Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.") is not?

That's a good point, but the vast majority of this stuff is handed to them from religious authority figures (pastors, commentaries, Sunday School, Bible study groups). There's an element of self-deception, sure, but I think a lot more of it runs along the lines of not second-guessing what seems to be a reasonable interpretation of what is after all a very old text written in multiple ancient languages, which they're usually reminded many times over that their religious authority knows (my dad, who's actually been to seminary, has a joke that if a pastor says in a sermon 'The original Greek says this, he's lying).
posted by shakespeherian at 5:24 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Philosopher Dirtbike, this most recent comment is similar to the problem with the blog post that the FPP is about.

You sort of generalize around about "Fundamentalists" (which is to say, no one in particular) and "prophesy" without really explaining what role that's supposed to play in the belief of "Fundamentalists" let alone Christians generally. You cite a dubious "fact" that verse 12 isn't regarded as prophecy and then conclude that all scriptural interpretation is intellectually dishonest. But you've really failed to engage with the tradition.

A symptom of this... is the "fact" that verse 12 isn't regarded as prophecy. I give you Augustine's Exposition on Psalm 22:
13. "Many calves came about Me. The multitude of the wanton populace came about Me. "Fat bulls closed Me in" Psalm 21:12. And their leaders, glad at My oppression, "closed Me in."

14. "They opened their mouth upon Me" Psalm 21:13. They opened their mouth upon Me, not out of Your Scripture, but of their own lusts. "As a ravening and roaring lion." As a lion, whose ravening is, that I was taken and led; and whose roaring, "Crucify, Crucify." John 19:6
(The inline citations cite Psalm 21 because of the difference in the Vulgate and ordinary English numbering of the Pslams.)

It's not that you should be somehow be persuaded by Augustine here, it's that you are, like McGowan, coming in to the middle of a conversation and insisting that you have killer arguments, as if no one's ever been critically self-reflective before, without actually engaging with what people have thought and said about these texts for thousands of years.

And if you want to insist that Evangelicals don't care about this commentarial tradition, I give you the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, published by InterVarsity Press.
posted by Jahaza at 5:37 AM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Jahaza, you're missing the forest for the trees. Different traditions will regard different verses as prophesy and not others. That was the point. "Tradition" is not some monolithic thing that I am "failing to engage with". Although I am an atheist now, I come from a Christian tradition. Telling me that my Christian tradition is somehow not "real" Christian tradition doesn't help your argument.

Anyway, your citation just bolsters the argument. Why does Augustine have to try so hard to make that sound like prophesy? And why would scholars from Judaism disagree?

If you don't like my other example, consider the argument about whether the Trinity is foreshadowed in Genesis. Some Christian scholars say it was. Scholars from Judaism would say it wasn't. What's the difference? They're reading the same texts, right? They are each interpreting the text in light of their own religious beliefs.

Also, I never "conclude[d] that all scriptural interpretation is intellectually dishonest." It is funny that you could read that into what I said when 1) it isn't what I said, and 2) my main point was that people interpret text in light of what they already believe (did you do that when you assumed that's what I was saying?). Perhaps you're mistaking me for another person in the conversation?

There's plenty of honest Biblical interpretation, and some is more honest than others. But biblical interpretation across traditions it's far more complicated that just a "scope of figurativity". That makes it sound like people just set some kind of 'figurativity threshold', and some people just more 'liberal' than others.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:05 AM on September 28, 2011


If you don't like my other example, consider the argument about whether the Trinity is foreshadowed in Genesis. Some Christian scholars say it was. Scholars from Judaism would say it wasn't.

The Trinity isn't even in the New Testament, so.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:36 AM on September 28, 2011


callmejay, are you basing that assessment on a thorough analysis of source texts, historical commentary, linguistic and literary analysis, and other relevant factors and scholarship, or are you just taking the canonized text at face value and interpreting it according to what seems clear to you based on your unaided modern understanding?

Using the word "obviously" when describing your interpretation of an ancient text translated into another language without any other accompanying scholarship seems a little, I don't know, lame.


I'm well aware of the "source texts, historical commentary, linguistic and literary analysis, and other relevant factors and scholarship" and I can read the Hebrew in the original, thank you very much. The verse is "obviously" being literal, yes, and there's not a lot of room for honest interpretation. Even if you are Orthodox, you can believe that the Sages and rabbis have some leeway in how the law is enforced, but you can't say that the law itself is figurative. It just isn't.

The amount of rationalizing that goes on with regard to religion is just mind-boggling.
posted by callmejay at 7:23 AM on September 28, 2011


zarq: Talmudic interpretation is malleable, but there are many interpretations that are accepted as fact, regardless. Do you know of any Jewish sources that subscribe to a literal interpretation of the passage, Orthodox or otherwise? They may exist, but I do not know of any.

The Talmud itself takes the law as literal! They just put a lot of restriction on the "elders" (i.e. courts) who the son would be brought to -- that's where they find their leeway to interpret. See Sanhedrin 72a, where they clearly treat the law as literal.
posted by callmejay at 7:30 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Philosopher Dirtbike: " If you don't like my other example, consider the argument about whether the Trinity is foreshadowed in Genesis. Some Christian scholars say it was. Scholars from Judaism would say it wasn't. What's the difference? They're reading the same texts, right?

Actually, no they aren't.

A) Jews are reading/interpreting a document in the two languages it was originally written in: biblical Hebrew and Aramaic. Christians are reading a translation -- usually one which has been translated through at least two or three languages. Errors in translation have been documented that change the meaning of the text.

B) There are large sections of the talmud (midrash) that are not accepted by Christians. Which also influence interpretation.

I don't disagree with your larger point about interpretation being malleable. But I think its best to acknowledge that the accepted 'Bible' is not universal between the two faiths, and the passages that do match up are usually given far different levels of emphasis.
posted by zarq at 7:36 AM on September 28, 2011


Jews are reading/interpreting a document in the two languages it was originally written in: biblical Hebrew and Aramaic. Christians are reading a translation...

Christian scholars read texts in the original languages too, you know.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:02 AM on September 28, 2011


Catholics have a different set of scripture than Protestants, as well. And the Jewish books that are shared by Christians are arranged in a different order, which I'm sure influences something or other.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:08 AM on September 28, 2011


Philosopher Dirtbike: " Christian scholars read texts in the original languages too, you know."

How many of them are establishing policy, tradition and rituals for the various Christian sects using the Aramaic / Hebrew Talmud?
posted by zarq at 8:13 AM on September 28, 2011


Christian scholars read texts in the original languages too, you know.

Scholars of all religions have their own agendas. A famous example of Christians translating a word so as to create a fulfilled prophecy is almah.
posted by callmejay at 8:14 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


zarq, did you see my response to your comment?
posted by callmejay at 8:15 AM on September 28, 2011


callmejay: " The Talmud itself takes the law as literal! They just put a lot of restriction on the "elders" (i.e. courts) who the son would be brought to -- that's where they find their leeway to interpret. See Sanhedrin 72a, where they clearly treat the law as literal."

This was not my understanding. In the conversations I've had about the law (and about Sanhedrin 72a with Orthodox and Conservative friends (and a couple of conservative rabbis) they have always drawn the same conclusion: that the passage is not to be taken literally.

But I'd better stress that I'm not an expert, and haven't studied any of this formally. So if you have, I'm going to have to bow to your expertise.
posted by zarq at 8:27 AM on September 28, 2011


I studied it formally, but only until age 20. -)
posted by callmejay at 8:57 AM on September 28, 2011


How many of them are establishing policy, tradition and rituals for the various Christian sects using the Aramaic / Hebrew Talmud?

None, that I know of. That's beside the point. I was talking about the books that Christians and Jews share, which were originally written in Hebrew and which Christian scholars read in the original language. The same passages are interpreted radically differently due to beliefs that are not indicated by the text itself (for instance, the Trinity).
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:14 AM on September 28, 2011


Philosopher Dirtbike: "How many of them are establishing policy, tradition and rituals for the various Christian sects using the Aramaic / Hebrew Talmud?

None, that I know of. That's beside the point. I was talking about the books that Christians and Jews share, which were originally written in Hebrew and which Christian scholars read in the original language. The same passages are interpreted radically differently due to beliefs that are not indicated by the text itself (for instance, the Trinity).
"

Also, the same passages are translated by them differently due to their beliefs, yes.

I have already acknowledged and agreed with you regarding the interpretation issue.

My point is that the accepted texts that both religions rely on for their traditions/rituals/beliefs are not equivalent in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with the way they are being interpreted. Whether a few hundred Christian scholars indulge themselves by studying the original texts is meaningless, if (a) their scholarship has little to no effect on religious institutions and (b) their work is not based on the full set of original texts and the transcribed oral tradition.
posted by zarq at 9:24 AM on September 28, 2011


What's interesting is that McGowan, an atheist, having prepared beforehand to engage in a meaningful discussion with a Jehovah's Witness, decided that the big point he wanted to make was the not all canonized scripture should be accepted as literally true or as the inerrant word of God and that the law set forth in the Old Testament should not be strictly construed or followed - a point where myriad major religions other than JW would agree with him. With so much time to prepare for the encounter, I'm surprised that he didn't choose to actually address something more substantive than just one point of doctrinal interpretation held by that particular sect.

Would those in this thread who are applauding him for this encounter be equally enthusiastic if, say, a Jewish, Catholic, or Mormon blogger recounted a similar encounter where the same points were made? Or do you like that he had this discussion mostly because he's a professed atheist?
posted by The World Famous at 10:26 AM on September 28, 2011


callmejay: "I studied it formally, but only until age 20. -)"

*bows*

:)

I'm going to read up on this a bit when I have time. This particular issue has been something to ponder for me for a long time. Which is why I talk to so many people about it.
posted by zarq at 10:36 AM on September 28, 2011


Would those in this thread who are applauding him for this encounter be equally enthusiastic if, say, a Jewish, Catholic, or Mormon blogger recounted a similar encounter where the same points were made?

*shrugs* I wouldn't notice a difference in my reaction as such, no. Regardless of HOW you differ from their interpretation, you differ, and my peeve about front-door evangelizing like this isn't what they're trying to sell me, it's the presumption that "You and I disagree about this, but what you don't know is that I have the CORRECT persepctive and I'm going to tell you why." It's the presumption that there is only one single "correct" perspective on this that chaps my ass, more so than the content of that perspective.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:38 AM on September 28, 2011


The World Famous: " Would those in this thread who are applauding him for this encounter be equally enthusiastic if, say, a Jewish, Catholic, or Mormon blogger recounted a similar encounter where the same points were made? Or do you like that he had this discussion mostly because he's a professed atheist?"

Honestly, I'd be a bit surprised if a religious Jewish blogger did so. I mean, I think a lot of religious Jews see Christian belief in / cherry-picked following of the so-called "Old Testament" as wrong-headed appropriation, but not something that they should lecture them about.
posted by zarq at 10:39 AM on September 28, 2011


Would those in this thread who are applauding him for this encounter be equally enthusiastic if, say, a Jewish, Catholic, or Mormon blogger recounted a similar encounter where the same points were made?

Jewish? Probably.
Catholic? Depends on the blogger.
Mormon? No.

It depends on how susceptible the other blogger's own beliefs are to the same argument.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:39 AM on September 28, 2011


Just to clarify, I'm not trying to cause offense by calling Christian beliefs cherry-picked or wrongheaded, by the way.

From a particular Jewish perspective, what Christians choose to emphasize and de-emphasize as important in the Torah is sort of arbitrary and not really in sync with Jewish modernity.
posted by zarq at 10:43 AM on September 28, 2011


Honestly, I'd be a bit surprised if a religious Jewish blogger did so. I mean, I think a lot of religious Jews see Christian belief in / cherry-picked following of the so-called "Old Testament" as wrong-headed appropriation, but not something that they should lecture them about.

Presumably, though, there are atheists who probably see "religious issues" as something that they shouldn;t lecture theists about, as well, for several reasons. Neither fact is going to stop every person from giving into the temptation, however, that I can see.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:44 AM on September 28, 2011


EmpressCallipygos: " Presumably, though, there are atheists who probably see "religious issues" as something that they shouldn;t lecture theists about, as well, for several reasons. Neither fact is going to stop every person from giving into the temptation, however, that I can see."

Yes.

I just want to mention this because I think it's worth spelling out: Not interfering with a non-Jew's religion is actually part of mainstream Jewish culture. So it's not a temptation issue as far as we're concerned. You're not supposed to proselytize, encourage people to join the tribe or tell people they're doing it wrong. We can debate all we like, but to actually try to convert someone is considered inappropriate and disrespectful.
posted by zarq at 10:57 AM on September 28, 2011


Jewish? Probably.
Catholic? Depends on the blogger.
Mormon? No.

It depends on how susceptible the other blogger's own beliefs are to the same argument.


How, in your opinion, are Mormon beliefs susceptible to the same argument? I ask because I am Mormon.
posted by The World Famous at 11:01 AM on September 28, 2011


How, in your opinion, are Mormon beliefs susceptible to the same argument? I ask because I am Mormon.

What is your view of Exodus 21:20?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:24 AM on September 28, 2011


What is your view of Exodus 21:20?

I don't understand your question. What do you mean by "what is your view?"
posted by The World Famous at 11:28 AM on September 28, 2011


Also, why are you responding to my question with another question? You made an assertion and I'm asking you to back it up. Back it up.
posted by The World Famous at 11:29 AM on September 28, 2011


Not interfering with a non-Jew's religion is actually part of mainstream Jewish culture. So it's not a temptation issue as far as we're concerned. You're not supposed to proselytize, encourage people to join the tribe or tell people they're doing it wrong.

No, I know. I'm pointing out that even on a secular level, basic courtesy also frowns upon doing something like that. But people may succumb to that kind of "beat 'em at their own game" kind of approach as a sort of "nyah nyah" kind of thing rather than a serious conversion effort, and whether the person whose doorstep the evangelist is on is atheist, Jewish, or some other flavor Christian may not affect that.

This is all in response to The World Famous' question about whether those of us saying "yay, he got that JW good" would be cheering if it was a theist writing about this encounter as opposed to an atheist. I was explaning why the religion/lack thereof of the person writing about this encounter would not affect my response to it, because the religion/lack thereof of the person writing about this encounter doesn't have anything to do with what spurred it, to my mind.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:35 AM on September 28, 2011


Also, why are you responding to my question with another question? You made an assertion and I'm asking you to back it up. Back it up.

That's what I'm trying to do. I've had conversations about this particular verse with Mormon missionaries before, but you might be different, so I'm trying to engage with YOUR beliefs. If you don't want to have a conversation, that's fine, but your beliefs are relevant here.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:59 AM on September 28, 2011


Mental Wimp: "I really, really believe no one ever had a change of heart over a conversation like this."

Depending on what you mean by "like this", you are wrong. I changed my mind after a series of conversations and arguments over a span of years with a patient and sincere friend. I am not the only one.
posted by idiopath at 12:07 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's what I'm trying to do. I've had conversations about this particular verse with Mormon missionaries before, but you might be different, so I'm trying to engage with YOUR beliefs. If you don't want to have a conversation, that's fine, but your beliefs are relevant here.

I do want to have a conversation. I am genuinely interested in knowing how it is you think that Mormon beliefs are susceptible to the same argument made by McGowan to the JW. Can you just tell me how it is you think they are, or do you have to ask me leading questions?

If the socratic method is the only way you can explain the issue to me, can you at least explain what it is you're asking so I can answer your question? As your question is currently phrased, it is unreasonably vague and I don't know what you're actually trying to find out from me.
posted by The World Famous at 12:08 PM on September 28, 2011


Also, sorry to be a bit snippy above. I really do appreciate your approach of trying to address my own beliefs, since I read the linked blog entries from my own perspective and got the impression very, very early on in his description of the encounter that his argument did not apply to me or my beliefs at all. So, with that said - and again, I apologize for being short - what do you mean when you ask me what my "view" of Exodus 21:20 is? Are you asking for me to analyze the passage in terms of whether or not I personally agree with the multiple assertions and implications of the text of the various English translations of it on a moral level, my opinion about the applicability of Old Testament legalese in relation to subsequent theological events (incl., but not limited to, the NT), how I view the implications of the passage in the historical and/or doctrinal context of the development of current Mormon theology over the last century, or something else?
posted by The World Famous at 12:26 PM on September 28, 2011


Sorry, I thought it would have been clear from the context of the linked blog post and this thread what I was asking. I'll just lay out the whole thing.

First, do you believe that God, at one point, gave the Israelites the law, and that the law included Exodus 21:20, which not only allows slavery, but allows you to beat your slave as long as the slave doesn't die within a few days? (Note also the close proximity of this verse to one version of the "Ten Commandments")

Second, do you believe that God is the source of objective morality, and that he expresses his view of what is moral through the law?

Third, do you believe that what the law in question law is moral?

Fourth, why would God, the source of objective morality, prohibit slavery in the Book of Mormon but not in the Old Testament?

In my experience having this conversation with Mormons, the answers to 1 and 2 are Yes, 3 is No, and 4 is usually something along the lines of "things were different then." Basically, this amounts to God changing his mind, which is McGowan's objection. As others have pointed out, this kind of argument is not equally troublesome for all sects. But it has been for the Mormons I've talked with.

Again, this may or may not be troublesome to you, depending on your particular theological views.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:39 PM on September 28, 2011


Philosopher Dirtbike, I think your first question (and the others) is problematic in several ways, including that it is compound and makes a lot of assumptions. And I think that may be the reason for the responses you say you've had in the past to it. But I'll take an honest crack at answering your questions.

First, do you believe that God, at one point, gave the Israelites the law,

In a sense. I don't believe the law was given to them word for word and I don't believe the law reflected the entirety of God's will or anything resembling or approaching a statement of absolute morality, if that makes sense.

and that the law included Exodus 21:20

I don't know exactly what the law included. I have never heard any compelling reason to believe that what was actually given by God to the Israelites is accurately reported in Exodus 21:20 or any other part of any canonized or non-canonized writing.

which not only allows slavery

Well, no, it doesn't "allow" slavery. It assumes that the practice of slavery is happening and does not expressly condemn it in that passage.

but allows you to beat your slave as long as the slave doesn't die within a few days?

Again, no. Laws in the United States, for example, that outlaw murder do not "allow you to beat your wife as long as you do not kill her."

So I guess my answer to your first compound question is "no."

Second, do you believe that God is the source of objective morality,

No.

and that he expresses his view of what is moral through the law?

No.

Third, do you believe that what the law in question law is moral?

I believe that the law in question is moral, in that I agree that people who beat others (slaves or otherwise) to death (or not to death) with a rod (or with any other weapon) should be punished. I do not believe that slavery is moral or that assault and battery not resulting in death should go unpunished. But the passage does not address either of those issues. It only prescribes a punishment for a very specific type of conduct (i.e. beating a slave to death with a rod). I agree, morally speaking, that if the elements of the crime described are met, a punishment should be imposed.

Fourth, why would God, the source of objective morality, prohibit slavery in the Book of Mormon but not in the Old Testament?

God didn't write the Old Testament or the Book of Mormon. The correct question is not why God would do X or Y, but why those books, given their alleged provenance and other factors, contain what you superficially assume to be contradictory interpretations of what alleged ancient peoples believed to have been received information from God. I can sit here all day and speculate or make up reasons that are plausible - and that speculation could include everything from assertions about the authenticity of the records to the interpretations of received divine guidance by ancient peoples to differing interpretations and many other approaches - but I'm sure you could, too. Ultimately, one of the most important aspects of my own belief system - as well as one of the core principles of Mormonism - is the notion that humans' understanding and interpretation of God's will is, by definition, imperfect and constantly evolving according to their individual and collective ability both to receive and to understand revealed truth. People - including people in antiquity and modern times - who we as a religion revere as prophets or other inspired people inevitably and repeatedly make egregious mistakes, including the inevitable mistakes that accompany the interpretation of inspiration through any given cultural lens. As I said, I could sit here making up possible explanations, but that wouldn't really be satisfying, would it?

In my experience having this conversation with Mormons, the answers to 1 and 2 are Yes

On the one hand, that surprises me because I think that answering yes to either of those questions is inconsistent with my religion's general approach to the Old Testament. On the other hand, I'm not surprised given the way the question is phrased, the assumptions inherent in it, and the fact that most people, Mormons included, do not carefully analyze questions and read the law like a lawyer.

3 is No

Yeah, in that case, it really does seem like they're not carefully or closely reading the statutory language that you asked me to comment on and that, as a result, they're buying into the same incorrect assumptions that you are drawing from that statutory language.

and 4 is usually something along the lines of "things were different then."

That's a pretty severe understatement. I don't think it can genuinely be disputed that things were, indeed, different then. I don't think that's a satisfactory explanation, though.

Basically, this amounts to God changing his mind, which is McGowan's objection.

If I thought there were some reason to believe that, at any point in the Old Testament, God stated unequivocally and in his own words every conceivable detail of absolute morality, McGowan's objection would be better taken. That's why his argument works better with a Jehovah's Witness.
posted by The World Famous at 1:17 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Philosopher Dirtbike, let me ask you this: Setting aside the separate question of whether slavery is moral, do you think a man who beats a slave with a rod and the slave dies as a result should not be punished?

Also, not to be overly pedantic, but if you're discussing that particular passage with a Mormon, you should keep in mind that the Mormon church stubbornly clings to the King James Bible, which does not use the word "slave" at all in that verse. Interestingly, the Mormon church historically has always accepted the Bible as scripture but has recognized that it is an imperfect volume that has numerous flaws, including translation problems (compounded by the fact that, when Mormonism refers to "translation," it often means more than just directly transferring text from one language to another) and other problems. But at the same time, the church has stuck with the KJV in spite of the better translations that now exist, due in part to the church's history of interpretation and additional canonized scripture that references or interprets the KJV language. But that's a whole different discussion for another time.

The KJV passage says: "And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished."

I'm not saying that the KJV is a good or correct translation (generally speaking, it's not). But I am suggesting that, if you were to have a discussion with a Mormon about that particular verse and the Mormon was more of a stickler for just exactly what scriptures the church officially uses than I am, there would be at least one more reason for the person you're talking to to answer "no" to your first question.
posted by The World Famous at 6:32 PM on September 28, 2011


I don't see why saying that Justice or God or Whatever advises different actions or makes different moral prescriptions for different cultures or times implies that Justice or God or Whatever changes its standard or changes its mind.

It seems to me that I could have a coherent, consistent, even (diachronically) constant moral theory that gives different prescriptions to different groups of people. For example, I have different requirements or make different prescriptions for adults than I do for children.

If that is plausible, then the problem isn't so much that some people read the Bible literally as that they automatically read it as applicable to people like us today. That is, the Bible might contain literal commands that made sense for the stone-aged people that wrote them down but that do not make sense for us. Those commands are probably not even intended for us! And yet, it might be -- at the same time -- that Justice or God or Whatever has not changed.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 11:26 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, Philosopher Dirtbike, do you have any further explanation about the basis for your assertion that Mormon beliefs are susceptible to McGowan's argument? You started to answer my question by asking additional questions of your own, and I'm curious to know the rest of your answer. If my beliefs and/or those of the religion of which I am a member are susceptible to McGowan's argument, I'm interested to know how they are.

I recognize that, within Mormonism, there is an extremely wide variation in belief that probably complicates the issue a bit. I also recognize that 19-year-old Mormon missionaries are extremely unlikely to give careful, well-thought-out responses to the sorts of questions you're asking, and are not likely to analyze them the way that I do. In fact, that's part of the reason for my questioning your assertion, which seemed a bit too absolute.

But it looks like your claim was based on conversations that you have had with Mormons who either didn't carefully analyze your questions or didn't believe everything that I think is an important part of Mormon theology, rather than on analysis of contemporary Mormon theology. Is that correct, or is there more to it?
posted by The World Famous at 6:48 PM on September 29, 2011


Interestingly, the Mormon church historically has always accepted the Bible as scripture but has recognized that it is an imperfect volume that has numerous flaws, including translation problems (compounded by the fact that, when Mormonism refers to "translation," it often means more than just directly transferring text from one language to another) and other problems.

BURN THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:03 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


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