Scaring the religious

He Who Knows Everything recommends that you should never ask anybody a question you don’t already know the answer to. It helps to avoid the kind of situations which prevent him from drinking tea and playing with his dead relatives. So, when he asks Mammy what she wants for dinner, he only does so because he already knows that the answer is pasta. He doesn’t ask why she emptied coke all over the bath, sink and toilet because he already knows there is no answer he wants to hear.

The trouble with questions is that very often you think you know the answer only to find a crazy haired individual giving unexpected ones. So it was that the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to call.

Although a protestant atheist (the worst kind, surely), I am happy to oblige other people and their belief systems providing it doesn’t put me out. It’s the way my Mammy raised me. She taught me that when the religious people knock on the door, you should smile and accept the proffered pamphlet. In the UK the system worked marvellously; it took about a minute and everybody went away happy. Over here, they begin by asking if I have read the Bible and take a staggered step back when I tell them I have.
It’s very bizarre. Ireland is still a very religious country. Even people who don’t attend mass are keen for the kids to get confirmed. The majority of the schools are associated with one or other of the religious orders and you can see the girls’ uniforms were obviously designed by nuns. I can’t be the only person who has bothered to read the holy text but the reaction of the Jehovah’s Witnesses would suggest otherwise.

It began badly.
“Hello, I was here before…” He says, “I spoke to your… Mother?”
“Could have done.” I replied cheerfully.
“…Or… your… Grandmother?”
“Could have done.” I replied cheerfully.
“Oh. I’m Tom* and this is,” *pause and turns to silent companion* “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name,” *turns back to me* “Have you read the Bible?”
“Yes I have. I’ve also read Richard Dawkins. I agree with him that religion is a scientifically untenable belief system”
“Right. Well, you know science has found that lots of what is said in the Bible is true. The order of creation for instance.”
“Oh yes, I know. The Bible is fascinating as an anthropological document. So much of what is in there has clear parallels with other cultures. The flood myth exists in many mythologies. The Chinese goddess Guan Yin bears striking similarities to the Virgin Mary.”
“I just find it difficult to accept any document which has been decided by committee as a holy writ.”
“Well yes. The protestant Bible has different books to the Catholic bible. There are also many other gospels in existence which are not included in the official table of what is and is not the holy word of God. After all, it was only several hundred years after his death that Jesus was declared to be holy and divine.”
“I… don’t know about that.”
“There are also many discrepancies and contradictions within the text.”
“Ah! Lots of people say that but when you ask them what discrepancies they can’t tell you any.”
“Check Dawkins. He’s got a list. I lent my copy to Strider otherwise I’d get it now and show you.”
“The Prophets of the Bible are true though. They knew the earth was round long before we did. If you read the prophesies you’ll see the prophets could predict the future.”
“Like Derren Brown and the lottery?”
“No. Not like Derren Brown and the lottery. That was a trick.”
“It might not have been. Anyway, the problem with prophesies is they have a get out clause. Any which aren’t true are just not true yet.”
“Hmmm. Do you know about the kingdom of god?”
“If I remember correctly, the kingdom of god is what we create for ourselves. It is in our relationship with God. We each create our own kingdom of god. It is in the world around us and in the way we treat ourselves and other people.”

As it turns out, my hippy protestant Jerry Springer influenced definition of things was entirely wrong. The kingdom of God is involves judgement and flames.

I’ve never been entirely clear what the core beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are. My mental index card for them reads “Operates on a pyramid scheme. Believes in finite number of places in heaven therefore not really interested in converting you.” After some further dredging I can come up with “Doesn’t like blood transfusions”. Having had a nice chat to Tom and his unnamed friend, I’ve been away and found out that one of their principle beliefs is that the end time is approaching and that we are all living in the last days.

While I appreciate the warning, I’m not going to be taking his advice on this matter. As I told them, ultimately I’m not a person who can follow the rules laid down for me by somebody I don’t believe exists. Even if I did believe in their existence, I will always end up doing what I personally believe to be right. It’s who I am.

It seems rather unfair that Jehovah’s Witnesses think we critics are unable to point to any discrepancies in the Bible. After all, they knew they were coming and had a chance to revise for our conversation. I was concentrating on understanding the Lisbon Treaty. If I’d been given notice I would have prepared a crib sheet with all of the things I forgot to mention.
For instance: The genealogical line listed from David to Jesus has different names (and a different number of them). It also gets drawn to Joseph. I always understood the point was rather that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ father.

To answer my queries, Tom very kindly left me a pamphlet entitled “How We Know The Bible Is True” which addresses this very issue of discrepancies and contradictions. Who Cain married is one of the perennial ones, as in the bible there are no people other than the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. It explains the problem thusly:
“Cain married his sister, or maybe a niece.”


*Not his actual name. I can’t remember what his name actually was.


sarah said...

theo! i missed you! i missed you and your wit. there was a gaping hole of witlessness about the internet

would you like to come and scare away my merry band of religious crazies who live near me?

i get nervous and smile and then they talk for aaaaaaaages. i am such a fool.

Theo said...

What am I? The wit faerie?

Oh no wait, I am aren't I? *flaps faerie wings*

Tell them you're a Pastafarian. You get to dress like a pirate on Fridays!