I’m happy to announce that I am now a Return Visit! In case that makes no sense to you whatsoever, first, consider yourself lucky and, second, it’s a Jehovah’s Witness term. Basically, when Witnesses talk to people at their doors, if that person shows any interest in their message – and especially if that person agrees to take their publications – then the Witnesses write down the person’s name, address, and stuff like that, and then they come back a week or so later to talk again.
This particular man has actually stopped by at least twice since I first took his copy of The Watchtower but, both times, I was not home. Yesterday (Sunday morning), however, I was home. He was with another Witness and the three of us talked for about a half hour while Emmett played in the yard.
First, they handed me this magazine…
…then, they asked if I thought the bible was “just a good book.” I said no. Then he said, “Oh, so you think it’s more than just a good book?” Then I said, “No, I don’t even think it’s a good book.”
They asked why, and I listed off a lot of things – there are some very boring chunks, lots of it makes no sense, it contradicts itself in hundreds of places – but we ended up talking about one specific thing I don’t like about the bible: it contains lots of abhorrent violence.
The Witness told me that those disgusting acts of violence are in the bible to demonstrate how far humans have fallen from God. Then I corrected him and said, “No, I don’t mean the violence that humans just do to each other, I mean the violence – the rapes and murders – that God sanctions in the bible.”
At first, they didn’t really know what I meant, which makes me wonder if they’ve ever read the bible. They asked if I had anything specific in mind, so I mentioned both the Noachian Deluge and the wholesale destruction of the city of Sodom. I also mentioned the genocide in Canaan and the subjugation of women prisoners by “God’s People.”
Oddly, after listing off a few things, the other Witness opened her bible and red Isaiah 55:11, which says that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and so we don’t know the whole story. Then the man asked, “Don’t you think having a righteous, just ruler over all humanity is the best form of government?” I said, “No, I think the best form of government is that which allows all citizens to effect change, if that’s what they think is necessary.” I don’t think they really understood my answer, but then pointed out that the bible is really filled with lots of good things that help us appreciate the Creator. Then they mentioned sunsets and puppies as two things that show how beautiful and loving God is.
This was a really weird line of ‘reasoning,’ and I conceded that there are good things in the bible, and there is much beauty in the world. Nevertheless, I compared the god of the bible to several historical figures – I named off Thomas Jefferson, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King – as three people that undoubtedly did much good for the world, but were also so deeply flawed that I could write a 20-page paper just touching on things wherein I disagree with them. “Jefferson was far, far from perfect,” I said, “And so, even though I like a lot of his ideas, I could never worship him. It’s the same thing with the god of the bible. Even if we agree – for argument’s sake – that He does exist and the He has done good things, I could never love – much less worship! – Him.”
On the topic of creation, I told them they were being selective in their evidence. I said that if we look at puppies as a way to inform us about the Creator, we must also look at the ichneumon fly, which lays its eggs in the brains of other insects. Then, when those eggs hatch, the larvae eat their host from the inside out, careful to keep it alive as long as possible while it suffers a slow, paralytic death. Then I asked: “What does that tell you about the Creator?” Then, before they could answer, I added, “Then there’s also the mosquitoes who spread disease, animals that hunt other animals, and even some animals that kill and eat their own young.”
The woman then shared a scripture with me saying that, with God, all things are good. I started to say that using the New Testament to prove the Old Testament is a bit like using Empire Strikes Back to prove Return of the Jedi, but the man stepped in and told me that, ever since humans sinned, the world has spun out of control. “God is letting people do what they want to show how much they need God,” he said. He then noted that we have no way of knowing how this affects the animals. For example, since we hunt them, they need to defend themselves.
So I scrapped my Star Wars analogy and instead just stared at them for a few seconds. “Wait,” I said, “I’m not sure I follow you. You’re saying that because Adam and Eve sinned, that’s why some insects lay eggs inside the brains of other insects?”
“Possibly,” he said. “We just don’t know. We have to wait on Jehovah.”
“Okay,” I said, “I can understand that, if Adam and Eve didn’t want God, that God would say, ‘All right, just do what you want then,’ and that’s why we have murder and rape and war and pollution and child abuse…but I’m not sure I follow you that, because Adam and Eve sinned, we now have animals doing terrible things to each other. And what about earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis? Why are there birth defects? Why cancer?”
“Well, a number of those things are caused by humans. Like birth defects can be caused by leading an unhealthy lifestyle.”
“Yeah, but that only explains some of them. A lot are simply random. And, anyway, what about the other stuff?”
“Humans cause all that stuff.”
“Wait, what? What do humans do that cause earthquakes?”
He then spoke for about two minutes straight about how we don’t know what some corporations are doing. Some pollute the earth, clearly, and this leads to global warming – man’s fault, not God’s. I asked if they understood the difference between human-caused suffering (eg, rape) and randomly bad things that happen because we live in an environment almost completely hostile to us (eg, volcanoes). “Corporations,” he said.
“What possible corporation in ancient Egypt, 3,000 years ago, did something to the Earth that caused volcanoes?”
He said he didn’t know. We’d have to wait to find out.
“Maybe,” I said, giving them a huge benefit of doubt. “But in the meantime, why would I be drawn to worship someone who causes such things.”
They said God doesn’t cause those things, humans do.
“No,” I said, “I don’t see how humans caused floods and hurricanes and earthquakes – especially prior to the modern era.”
At about this time, a car pulled up and parked right in front of my yard. An older man got out and came over to us. I recognized him as the father-in-law of one of my (former) best friends and the sight of him made me nervous! I thought for sure he was going to pipe up and say, “This is James Zimmerman, he’s an apostate, let’s go.” But instead, he didn’t recognize me at all, and simply did the ol’ point-to-you-watch gesture to indicate they had to get going. I looked over at the car and saw three other Witnesses sitting in the back seat, but I couldn’t see well enough to identify anything about them.
Anyway, the man then said the bible speaks about an increase of earthquakes in the time of the end, which conveys exactly zero relevant information, but I followed that up with: “So then God is making those earthquakes, right? I mean, he knew they would happen – at least, if we agree that your bible is accurate – and he supposedly has the power to stop them. Yet he doesn’t. And innocent people die. Because God murdered them. Including babies.”
The women then said God only kills wicked people.
“No, that’s not true,” I said. “God killed almost every human on the planet in the time of the Great Flood, including children, babies, and fetuses. What did they do wrong?”
The woman then said that they could see I was a family man. She asked what my role in the family was. Then she asked if there were certain rules in our house, and if there are ramifications – discipline – for breaking the rules.
“Okay, I said, then let me ask you this: What possible rule could I have that, if my son (I pointed to Emmett) broke the rule, I would be justified in drowning him?”
The man said nothing, he just stared with his mouth agape. But the woman pointed out that I am responsible for my children, just as the adults in Noah’s day were responsible for their children. “And they chose not to get into the ark,” she said.
“Okay, then let me rephrase: What possible law could I break – against the State of Minnesota of the United States – that the government would be justified in drowning both me and my children?”
“Well,” said the man, jutting out his hand, “It’s been real nice talking to you. We appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us on this fine day, but we have to get going.”
I shook his hand.
Not sure if he’ll be back next week.