I miss my Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Right, context. Let’s go back a bit.
Mormons and Witnesses are all over the bloody world. For most of my life, I was entirely ignorant of this fact. I took their presence for granted when I was growing up. They were just the strange Christians who show up at your door uninvited, trying to sell you their god and litter your house with magazines containing crappy illustrations and horrible advice. Everyone deals with this back home. God salespeople are, after all, a ubiquitous part of American life.
As I saw it, all these people were really good for was occasionally messing with, but I wasn’t even all that interested in taking the time for that! Usually I just wanted to get back to whatever I was doing before they had interrupted me. Even though I’d heard stories about how fun it could be, I didn’t have the patience to try to convert them as they sought to to convert me. (Those video games weren’t going to play themselves!)
I didn’t really give them any other thought until I went to study in Germany. One afternoon after classes had ended, I went out to buy groceries to make dinner. This was ordinarily a pretty mundane process, so I tended to do this on autopilot. This one day, however, I noticed something amiss on my way back from the store. Standing on opposite sides of the quad were two young gentlemen who clearly weren’t residents. As I approached, I saw the more distant of the two begin talking to some passersby, but I paid this pair no other attention.
Not until I got within conversation range of the closer one, that is. He made eye contact with me, and it was obvious that he was about to approach me.
I thought to myself, ‘Something about this is very strange, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Why is this so odd?’
He was close now, still very obviously determined to talk to me. It dawned on me suddenly in that moment. This situation was strange because I had not seen anyone else in Germany dressed like this before. In fact, I recognized these outfits. They were dressed like the people who used to interrupt my TV watching back in the United States!
“Hi,” he said to me, “do you speak English?”
Crap. There I am, groceries in hand, right outside my apartment-dorm-thing, and I’m about to be subjected to what may very well be a serious case of inanity.
My eyes darted to his name tag. So-and-so, Latter Day Saints. Great, a fucking Mormon. In Germany. Am I hallucinating this? Apparently not.
And so it began. In actuality, the conversation wasn’t terribly long. They were there promoting an event sponsored by the Mormon church, which had arranged to bring in some famous Mormon speaker to give a presentation at a local conference hall. I told him that I wasn’t religious, so I probably would not be in attendance, and he accepted this amicably, noting that I would still be welcome.
I had to know, though, “I was really surprised to see you guys here. Why Germany?”
“Oh, it’s to fulfill our service requirement. Yeah, we fly missionaries all over the world.”
My mind was blown. I was completely, utterly repulsed by this revelation. Not only were the LDS missionaries interrupting the leisure of millions of Americans, they were also—are also—corrupting the minds of innocent people throughout the world. I politely ended the conversation to go ponder the consequences over dinner.
My time in Germany (especially my visit to Berlin) had already left me with a very bad taste in my mouth about religion, and this experience did not help things. Still, I had more immediate concerns, and this exchange drifted slowly out of my consciousness as the months passed.
Cut forward to November of last year, when it all came rushing back to me.
The doorbell. There are two Japanese guys outside my door. (Of course they’re Japanese—I’m in Japan.) I open it. They’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am surprised. These people are the direct result of brainwashing that the pair from Germany had come to represent in my mind. In spite of this, I am friendly. These are very nice people, so my demeanor is sincere. We talk. There is a language barrier, but it is not insurmountable. The elder one asks if we can spend more time talking in the future. I readily agree. We schedule a time. The day comes. I invite them in. I make coffee. We discuss life as we drink it. Eventually, the conversation turns to religion. Good. This is what they are here for—it’s what I want them here for. I ask why they believe. They give mostly nonanswers. They have nothing to say but deepities. (I expected no less.) Still, they are genuinely pleasant people, and I invite them back regularly. These conversations continue sporadically over the next three or four months. The junior member occasionally varies, but the senior member is always the same. It is slow going because of the language barrier, but we are making significant progress. The senior member does most of the talking. I offer scientific conclusions to rebut his supernatural claims. “Ah, you believe God and Satan control earthquakes, but we understand the process—well enough to make predictions about them. We do not need God to explain them. We can even affect them ourselves through purely physical means.” He did not know this. Suddenly I am glad I took those geology courses. This process repeats a few times, until finally, one day, it stops. I know he’s still around because another pair of Witnesses has come to my door since then, unaware that I had ever been involved in such conversations with their colleague, and they report that he is well. (This new pair said they’ll come back. I’m not holding my breath.)
I miss my Witnesses. They were a superlative exercise in confronting supernatural ignorance with facts and rationality. I felt like I was making progress, and I suspect that’s exactly why I don’t see them anymore.
I sometimes get into debates with theists online. Like my Jehovah’s Witnesses, I enjoy the conversations that come out of this. Even if I do sometimes get frustrated with all the miscommunications that inevitably arise from the medium, it isn’t substantially different from combating the language barrier with my Japanese Witnesses. In both cases, they rely on the erroneous spirituality of deepity to form superficially profound yet utterly meaningless conclusions. In both cases, they make a swift exist when I begin making progress.
Over the last week, I’ve been involved in a few different conversations with believers, and each time, as I felt like I was truly beginning to get my point across, the conversations just … stopped. Like the Witnesses, they took the safe exit rather than examine their beliefs: to flee for the hills without looking back.
Where once each conversation had flown so effortlessly, right when it seemed we were on the verge of a breakthrough, their responses just—