Posted by: religionthink | March 1, 2010

How To Have A Discussion With The Jehovah’s Witnesses

A How To Have A Discussion With The Jehovah’s Witnesses

By Alford D. Wayman

When having a discussion with the witnesses or any religious group, I always implement a few ground rules with myself. Below are a few techniques that may be helpful in having discussions with the Witnesses that wake you up on Saturday morning. To start off I have at least ten basic assumptions about religious groups in general, which are listed below. After all, they already have assumptions about you!

1. Every belief system views their texts, revelations, and theology and the pure and original and that every other perceived parallel is just a distortion of the pure.

2. Each belief system sees it’s founder or founders and being divinely inspired and straight from the deities themselves.

3. Each belief system will justify the violent aspects of their religious texts and theology with the perceived divine mission.

4. Believers of all religions romanticize the history of their founding, patriarchs, and sacred literature.

5. Apostates of the belief system will maximize the perceived negative aspects of the belief system/ the believer will minimize such aspects.

6. People will always be people no matter what the belief system. How do they treat their apostates?

7. Spoken words and actions of believers is far different then what the texts relate, and what the belief system demands.

8. Within religions and belief systems, “truth” is always democratic.

9. Within belief systems there is always a double message. One message to proselytize with, and another to followers. When the media is involved there maybe a third. So deception is acceptable to a certain extent.

10. Pious acts committed by belief systems and religions may not always be for the reason given by the follows. Always ask “What’s in it for them?”

Moving back to the topic one ground rule is that I respect the views of the other party and take time to listen to their points being made. This is most helpful in having any kind of conversation. This give and take process will provide you with information on the person’s worldview and theological ideas which is useful in bringing up topics of debate and discussion.

Second, I try to be upfront about my religious views and say the words “In my opinion…” often because the last implies that what we discuss are in fact that, opinions or theological views that are currently accepted by the main stream or orthodox of the particular belief system. Also words like “It is currently thought or accepted that..” this implies that theology changed or changes over time, which is something that most of fundamentalist belief systems are not willing to accept. This word usage will possibly get the other person to do the same. If they say, “Well we believe that…” this is a good sign.

Third, give examples of texts that may not go with the theological assumptions of the theology. This is rather challenging because one needs to be well studied, not only in what the Witnesses view is, but also of Jewish and Christian literature, theology, and world mythology. Also, some basic knowledge of Hebrew and Greek may be in order and knowing the dating of texts and the political and cultural circumstances that were happening at the time. This is done to replace the theological overtones and exegesis with that of a secular view, backed by historical events with examples from archeology and texts of other belief systems of that time period.

Fourth, do not be shy in bringing up topics that maybe controversial, but try to do it tactfully. Do not be afraid to compare and contrast with other belief systems by giving examples of the same controversial issues elsewhere. This will do two things. It will put them on the defensive and also it will force them to explain how they are different or exclusive from others who have the same issues.

Fifth, Before they show up apply the “ex-spouse technique” Those of you who have been divorced know that the ex will tell everyone everything if they ask. So ask or view (on video sharing sites)an ex-member for information on how the group works and treats their members and those rejected from the community. Weed out the obvious exaggerations that ex-spouses always give to spice up the story and you have a gold mine of information.

Lastly here is part of a real conversation that I had recently to give an idea of how it might go:

JW: We gather for study in Kingdom halls, They are not sacred but just places to come together and study. Like the Jewish synagog, so to speak.

Me: Excellent the Synagog was like the glue that held the Jewish nation together while in exile because the Pharisees tried to preserve the culture and fight assimilation by their study and teachings.

JW: But the Pharisees were very legalistic for they looked down on the people.

Me: How so?

JW: They refereed to the as עם הארץ or “people of the earth”. Therefore they viewed themselves as being higher or more holy then the common people.

Me: In my opinion I do not see the term as being derogatory. They were people of the earth for they were all sons of Adam which is a word play on the word Adama which means reddish or of the earth. The divine referred to Ezekiel as the בן־אדם or “Son of man.” in Ezekiel 2:1 “And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. ” Had they not been people of the earth they would have been called the “Sons of the divine beings” or בני־האלהים. They were not gods but men. The Pharisees had to hold a high standard to live as examples to prevent assimilation into the Babylonian culture. They gladly took on the Yoke of the law.

JW: But they had laws that were over burdened. One lady I knew cried one time when I visited her at a nursing home because she broke the Sabbath by opening the refrigerator. Do you feel this is just?

Me: The only view that most people get of the Pharisees, especially among Christians , is the view from the New Testament. I personally believe this view is inaccurate. Fences were applied to in front of laws so people would not brake the actual law. Theses fences could be created or removed depending on the actions of the people. You might have fences in your own belief system and may not even realize it.

JW: We no longer need the laws because it is written on our hearts. The Holy Spirit guides us in the right paths.

Me: We can see the the diversity of belief systems among Christians that this may not the case. A group of people who have the same views put together moral guidelines and theology that they consider orthodox to the belief system that they agree to follow. I believe that even you have a group of people called the “Governing Body”. Each interprets the text and uses exegesis to apply it to their lives. They create laws and doctrine for the followers. We know what happens if such things are not followed.

JW: So what do you think about 2Pe 1:20-21 For YOU know this first, that no prophecy of Scripture springs from any private interpretation. For prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.

ME: I can not take that as being true because of the example of Hosea. Hosea had to live an allegory so he would know how the divine felt in order to make his message more powerful to the people. Each of the prophets had different reasons for why the exile happened. If it was only one interpretation form the divine then they would all have the same view. This is not the case. Reading the various views of the prophets concerning the society tells us this. I even believe that Elijah spoke of the divine and asked for a sign when he thought he was the only prophet left. I believe that was brought on by the will of a man. Also the Urim and Thummim stones that were used to tell the divine will of future events.

JW: Do you believe the bible to be the inspired word of God?

ME: No.

JW: Why not?

ME: Because if this was the case I believe God would have done a better job at preserving it. In the New Testament we have no originals, but copies of copies of copies. Even the text on 2 Peter you read earlier is thought by most not to be written by Peter but attributed to him. Also, as you well know the inserted text thought to be in the book of John. This makes me question what was meant to be said. I do appreciate the literature and believe it plays a role in society but I do not believe it is inspired.

JW: What would it take for you to believe?

ME: I have read to much religious literature both current and past and see the influences and similarities between them all. People complain of paganism in modern belief systems but just how far are you willing to go? What do we keep and what do we toss? Canaanite deities El, Mot and Yam all show in the Hebrew language and even more embedded ideas in Christian theology. I tend not to care what people say but what they do. I look out my window. If I see it benefiting my community then it works. If it is harming my community then it will not. At times by doing nothing is just as bad as harming.

JW: In the end only two laws apply – He said to him: “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. The second, like it, is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.” (Mat 22:37-40 NWT). So as long as I love my neighbor as myself and God I would be following all of the laws as it states in the text. We will not always be perfect and when we are not we try to repent.

Me: True. But what you might think is good for you might not be good for your neighbor. But I get your point. So then would the apostate or one “shunned” from you belief system count as a neighbor? Just something to think about because I have seen the videos and heard the stories. I do realize that some are exaggerations but I refuse to let that person be me. All these books behind me are from scholars and they are all commentary on the literature. I currently can not join a group and have another person telling be how a text is suppose to be read. I need the freedom to have ideas without the worry of offending orthodox. Because things in research tend to change faster then a belief system’s theology.

JW: Well it has been nice chatting!

ME: Same here. Come back anytime. But I’m going to keep reading and you keep reading and maybe in 20 years I’ll be able to make some kind of decision.

We both laugh.

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