When the US was trying to dethrone Panama’s General Noriega in 1989, they set up enormous loudspeakers outside the presidential palace and played full-volume rock music 24/7 in order to force him to surrender and avoid bloodshed. I remember one news announcer making the joke that if this failed, the US would have to bring out the big guns and send in the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
My mother’s elderly next door neighbor had put a sign on her apartment door that read: “Useless to knock, as I will not answer…and that includes you too, Jehovah’s Witnesses”. These stories highlight the notorious persistence for which the Witnesses have become famous (or infamous depending on your perspective). But as anyone who has done door-to-door sales will tell you…it’s a brutal job and one which gives me some sympathy and compassion for anyone trying to sell me something at the door, regardless of the “product”.
And frankly, I relish religious discussion. I’ve been interested in Transpersonal Psychology (how people search for meaning that transcends life and death) since my teens, and have spent days and weeks in monasteries, ashrams, and temples from a variety of religions and denominations. One of my close personal friends is an ultra-religious Jew, and we’ve spent many an evening in deep discussion and debate over religious and spiritual matters.I may not agree with his perspective, but I’m fascinated by the intricate logic that religious belief entails.
This confidence has made it possible for me to do the unthinkable…actually spend time (usually between 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how cold it is outside!) with Jehovah’s Witnesses at my front door, in fairly deep debate about their beliefs…and mine. It seems that once you’ve opened a portal it gets around that community pretty quickly and you get visited by various “teams”, bent on leading you just a little closer to their perspective each time…sort of like a good “soft” sales approach intended to break down your objections and close the deal.
I’ve learned a lot. The Witnesses have an interesting approach in that they tell you that they’re very open to discussion and debate, and not intimidated by being challenged. And boy can they debate! But that’s largely because, for the most part, they’ve anticipated every possible objection and have an answer for it from somewhere in the Bible. What I’ve come to realize over time about not only the Witnesses but other “true believers” is that you aren’t really having a debate because there is no chance in Hell of any compromise position or meeting of the minds.
Religions have had several thousand years to actualize the old joke:
Rule #1: I am always right
Rule #2: When I’m wrong…see Rule #1.
In the end, what makes such discussion fruitless is the fact that there can be only one change in direction….your’s. In other words, there can be no movement in their position because the very act of considering someone else’s perspective would be a violation of the faith itself. And of course, the religious logic is designed in a way that makes it invulnerable to outside ideas since these are by definition the “work of the Devil”.
Nevertheless, it remains fascinating to me how people refuse to use the God-given human gift of logic in the one area where it really matters most…the search for the meaning of life. I have however managed to find one question that challenges even the Witnesses. I usually ask them if logic and reason are God-given abilities, to which they invariably reply “yes”. Then I ask them why God would give this gift to us and then expect us to simply set it aside and take literally, the words written, translated, and interpreted, in various books (the Bible isn’t one book) written thousands of years ago. I’ve never had an answer and they just change the topic.