Christians at the Door
Picture the scene: it’s Saturday morning, and you’re shuffling around the kitchen in your dressing gown waiting for the kettle to boil. You hear the bell ring. You let out a yawn that’ll hopefully stop before you open the door, but you slow your steps just in case. When you open it, you’re met with a bright-eyed, smartly-dressed, wide-smiled pair, and before they even begin you know what they’re going to say:
‘Hello, do you have a moment to talk about God?’
Everyone’s experienced this at some point. Most of us politely decline and carry on, not giving it a second thought. This has happened to me at least four times in the last two months. I have no idea how many people decide to humour them, but I decided to take them up on the offer as I wasn’t exactly in a rush that day. One impromptu philosophical debate in a state of undress later, and I asked if they wanted to schedule a proper meeting, one where hopefully a stray breeze wouldn’t leave my choice of pants open to criticism.
A week later, and I’m sat in the garden of a coffee shop. It’s a sunny, airy afternoon; perfect for a casual conversation about existentialism and the nature of evil. I’d written a few questions which I hoped would guide the conversation, but I fully expected digressions. Once they’d arrived, (let’s call them Jane and Michael for the sake of simplicity) I thanked them for coming and informed them I’d be recording some of their answers. They were happy enough to know that someone was genuinely interested in discussing their faith with them.
I started off with some context. When did they start practicing their faith? They’d been raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and had continued practicing their entire lives. I’m not personally acquainted with the subtleties of what JW’s believe, so it was interesting to hear how open-minded they were about several traditionally contentious aspects of Christianity. For example, they explained that they focused on the love of God more so than other denominations, and they saw no problem in how (or who with) that love was expressed. It was not their place to judge, so they didn’t. On the other hand, they showed a healthy skepticism of carbon dating, and a few reservations about the Big Bang. Still, they didn’t come across as particularly dogmatic. The one thing I did know about JW’s was their aversion to blood transfusions. Whilst Michael did say that rules had been relaxed about the treatment, he brought up the statistics surrounding blood-related deaths. It sounded to me like old habits die hard, but I didn’t want to pursue it further.
We moved on to more serious questioning. What was their stance on evil? How could they reconcile a benevolent and loving God when evil exists in the world? I wasn’t looking for an answer necessarily, just some insight into how they personally dealt with it. Free Will played an important part in the discussion that followed. Their argument suggested that the Earth is the domain of the devil, ever since he fell from Heaven. Since the devil is present on Earth, evil persists. God presides over Heaven, and he stays in Heaven, thus he allows evil to remain. This is because humanity must become perfect through the lessons learnt from experiencing evil. However, ‘Jesus is king, and Earth is his kingdom.’ Everlasting happiness will come to Earth eventually, and Heaven is not guaranteed for everyone. Some will live on Earth instead. Free Will is the product of the devil’s rebellion (they say angels were the first to have Free Will), and so it exists on Earth. Free Will is necessary for us to make (and learn from) mistakes, and as a result the JW’s do not believe in fate since that is too deterministic.
I countered, asking why (if God is all-loving and cares for his creation) he would bother letting us realise morals ourselves if it’s within His power to impart those morals at any time. If Jesus is King, and Earth is his kingdom, why is the devil in charge? Free Will means you have the freedom to make a bad decision, or approach things from different angles. If Free Will is necessary to move to a state of perfection, why is it associated with the fall from grace, and thus associated with the progenitor of evil?
Michael phrased it as the devil choosing wrong by choosing Free Will. Justice (defined as ‘a process in the case of human evil’) is ultimately up to God, as only He can decide who is allowed into Heaven. I wondered if Heaven would even be worth reaching if everlasting happiness on Earth is already coming. Everlasting happiness without having to move houses sounds pretty good to me. They also tried to explain to me the separation of body and consciousness by drawing a distinction between what happens to each after death. Though your body remains a constant, your consciousness ceases; There is no soul that departs upon death, no essence that persists. Confusingly, they went on to say that the memory of you remains if people remember you, and that when the resurrection occurs, the same consciousness that ceased at the point of death returns to the body. It didn’t sound like there was much of a distinction between soul and consciousness in this case, and it was never fully resolved by the end of the conversation.
Since we were riffing on the idea of eternal happiness, I asked them if an eternal state of happiness is truly an enjoyable state.
‘For example,’ I said, ‘happiness cannot exist if there is nothing to compare it against. You can’t know what happiness is unless you know what it is to be sad, or any other sort of negativity. What’s the point in being happy all the time if you become numb to the feeling after a while?’ The question proved difficult to answer. We went back and forth about what you could define as happiness, how an individual’s idea of happiness may directly contradict another’s, and whether there was value in experiencing the same sensation over and over for eternity until the sensation becomes meaningless. Again, there was no meaningful conclusion. We agreed to disagree on the value of everlasting happiness.
By now I had finished my pot of tea, and Jane and Michael had left briefly to buy another coffee. The wind had dropped a bit, and I wondered how best to use the last few minutes of the meeting. We’d already been talking for over two hours and I hadn’t much time left. The question I ended up posing was this: what do you personally derive from your faith?
Michael answered first. He derived his morals from his faith. What’s to stop you from keeping those morals independently of your religion? He viewed them as inseparable. By maintaining his faith, he was maintaining his morals. If he neglected his faith, his moral compass would become less-defined. If he abandoned his faith completely, he would not set anywhere near as much time aside to reflect on how to improve himself as a person. Jane’s was a lot more direct. She derived purpose; security; direction; community. For her, her faith was an integral part of her life. She would not be the same person without it, not necessarily because she would act any differently (aside from not going door to door anymore), but because her religion has been a part of her life since she was a child. It’s not easy to walk away from something you have committed to for that long, and certainly when it gives you as many positives as it does to her. But by this time, it was time to go. Their meter was about to run out on the car, and the café was preparing to close. I thanked them for their time, and we left in opposite directions.
I would say, altogether, that discussing their faith with them certainly left me more informed about the finer points of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For one, they don’t celebrate Christmas, since it has nothing to do with Christ’s birth and everything to do with the Pagan festival of Saturnalia, celebrated on the 25th December. I was able to have a frank and civil discussion about religion that didn’t occur in an echo chamber of believers or Atheists. Maybe if I’d been able to ask more questions, if there was more time, I would have been able to go more in depth and find out more about their personal relationship with their faith (the most interesting part of the discussion to me). As it is, I’m sure they’ll stop by my door again, whereupon my bewildered brother will have to inform them that I moved to Scotland recently. Was this all a long con to embarrass my brother? Time will tell.
 I neglected to record the full reference, only that it’s from the New World Translation.