Sunday, May 06, 2007

My first Jehovah's Witnesses!

As a break from my preparation for final exams yesterday, my wife brought me a nice little present: Jehovah's Witnesses at the door.

I have heard many stories about JWs bothering people at home, but I've never had the good fortune to be visited by any myself. When the doorbell rang, Ginny peered out the window and said "Oh Russell, you'd better get that." "Really? Who is it?" I asked.

She explained that she'd been visited by this little old lady a few weeks ago. After telling the nice lady that we were atheists, Ginny received an edition of "Watchtower" (which I remember rifling through and chuckling at, but not reading all the way through). This time, the little old lady brought her (50ish) daughter along with her as reinforcements.

I opened the door with my most polite smile, and then I introduced myself. They said they'd heard I was an atheist, and I immediately said I was an OUTSPOKEN atheist, and that they should watch The Atheist Experience on Sundays.

The younger woman immediately launched into a prepared shpiel about how she probably agrees with each other that people who do not understand TRUE Christianity do very bad things in the name of their religion, and their religion is not like that at all... I cut her off and let her know that, while I sometimes don't care for the practices of religion, that has almost no bearing on why I am an atheist. I am an atheist because I don't believe in any evidence for God.

At that point, as you might expect, we started to bounce around from topic to topic at a furious pace. The younger lady was doing most of the arguing (albeit in a nice, friendly tone), while the older lady's role appeared to be periodically brandishing the Bible that she clutched like a security blank, and occasionally either alluding to a passage within it or looking it up and reading it to me. I kept reminding her that that was nice and all, but I don't believe that the Bible has any special status as an accurate source of information, so reading those quotes means little more to me than quoting "The Odyssey."

The younger woman would ask, for instance: "If there's no God, then where do you think morality comes from?" I replied quite matter-of-factly that morality comes from human perceptions, and develops over time as societies do. The older woman said "Oh, but our societal morals are so much worse now!" "Not at all," I replied. In many ways, it is better. For instance, I said, during the time of the Bible, people supported slavery as a good idea. Now they don't. There you go: the perception changed, and it was an improvement over the Bible.

Naturally, they started to mount a defense of how "Biblical" slavery is different from slavery as we know it, which I headed off by asking if it would be a good idea to bring back Biblical slavery in modern times. It was a roundabout discussion, but eventually the answer (to my somewhat surprise) was "yes." So I said "I guess that's one way that my understanding of morality differs from the Bible. I believe that slavery is wrong, and clearly you do not."

Then they started trying to talk about how we are enslaved in OTHER ways even today, and I said "Even so, I believe that metaphorical enslavement is a big step up from explicit, instituional slavery." Then the mother started talking about how the devil enslaves us all. "Yes, I understand that you believe that," I said. "But you see, I don't believe in the devil, so that doesn't bother me."

The daughter stressed several times that they were not going around trying to convince anybody of anything. "Really?" I asked, acting surprised. "Why not? It's okay if you DO want to convince me; that wouldn't bother me at all." But again, she insisted that she had no desire to make me change my mind. "But why not?" I asked. "Don't you believe that unbelievers will be tormented in the afterlife? If I believed that, I'D probably want to convince other people to change their minds."

No no no, said the daughter. That's those other, FALSE Christians who believe that stuff. "Oh," I said. "Then please explain to me what your religion says will happen to people who don't come around to your point of view." She hedged and waffled a bit, first saying it's not only Jehovah's Witnesses who are saved. "Yes, but what about an atheist like me?" I asked, keeping her on topic. She said "Well we can't judge you, only God does that. Perhaps you'll be saved anyway." "Yes, but what if I'm not?" I persisted. "Then you will be destroyed." "Oh, *I* see!" I concluded, trying to grasp the fine points of a religion that says my punishment is merely to be destroyed rather than tormented, and yet live eternally apart from God. "So again, why don't you want to convince me? You don't want me to be destroyed, do you?" Of course, she said that's really up to me, and shortly thereafter we changed the subject.

From there we moved on to how I can't be frightened by threats when I have no good reason to believe in the threats. There are thousands of religions to choose from. Perhaps you're going to hell too, if it turns out that Islam is correct. All these Christians whom you say are false Christians, maybe they're right and you're wrong. I have no basis for choosing between all these religions except your word, which is based on your holy book, which you assume is correct but I have no reason to share this assumption.

Then she started telling me how the modern Bible so perfectly predicts all the findings of modern science, and I said "Oh really, what about a six day creation?" I wanted to feel out whether she was a young earther, and it turned out she wasn't. So I asked why not. "There's certainly nothing in the Bible to indicate anything other than a six day creation, and if you're right then what's up with all Christians who use the Bible to justify a six-day creation?" She explained why the Bible COULD support a reading of non-literal days. "But that's not the Bible being accurate about science," I objected. "That's science making discoveries, and religion being reinterpreted to match the facts afterwards." She insisted that this was not the case, and so I asked why it was that people never realized that the earth was billions of years old just from reading the Bible. Science had to come along FIRST and discover the age of the earth, and only then could the Bible be interpreted to support what scientists had already found out.

She didn't know the answer to that one, but then she changed the subject to the inaccuracy of evolution. So I asked if she could explain to me how evolution works, because I was pretty sure she didn't understand it. She said defensively, why don't you tell me?" So I did. Luckily I had just had a bunch of practice talking about the subject on The Atheist Experience last week.

But before long, of course, we shifted away from evolution to abiogenesis and then -- when it was apparent that I had some knowledge of that too (I started explain Stuart Kaufmann's autocatalytic cycles) we almost immediately moved to first cause. As I recall, when I explained that the natural workings of physics behave in a consistent way, she said "Thank you!" in a smug finalized way, as if she'd proved something. "You're welcome," I said. "So what?" And she told me that natural laws require a designer, and we were off on the argument from design.

So she started gesturing at my house, telling me that it was so orderly that it must be designed. "Unlike, say, a pile of random rocks in the desert," I replied. "Exactly!" "But according to you, the pile of random rocks also requires a designer. So this thing about design being recognizable in order is a red herring. Your religion teaches that disordered things are ALSO evidence of design." Then she started trying to explain why a random pile of rocks in the desert is also a very intricately ordered pattern... and I said "If I thought the way you do, then I might as well just go live in a pile of rocks, because they're just as well designed as my house."

So eventually we moved on to religion's last resort of trying to prey on fear of death. She asked where I expect to be when I'm 90. "Well," I said, "If I'm still alive..." "Aha!" said the older one. "But that's the point! What if you're not still alive? Then what?" So I said: "Then I'll be dead." "But then what after that?" "Then I'll still be dead."

But, they blustered, you can't possibly believe THAT. Doesn't that bother you? Sure it bothers me, I said. But there are lots of things that bother me that I can't change. It's better to recognize and accep those things than to make up comforting stories about why they aren't really true.

Then the mother told me a very odd story about her grandson, who accidentally killed a bird with a BB gun and was just torn up with sadness over it. He came in and asked what would happen to the bird, and they said that for the bird death was final, and that made him extremely sad.

"So," I said, "That means you think birds don't go to heaven." "Of course not," they told me. "Well, what happens to them after that?" "They just decompose." "Well there you go," I said. "I have no reason to believe that what happens to the bird will not also happen to me."

Eventually they asked if they could leave another "Watchtower" with me, which I said was fine, but it's unlikely that I would read it because I'm busy with grad school. They gave it to me anyway, and then they kindly invited me to attend their Bible study. (Because clearly, outnumbering me by two to one isn't nearly enough. :) I, in turn, told them when to watch the show and encouraged them to call in if they wanted to.

So anyway, that was a fun diversion. Since I'm on hiatus from the Non-Prophets, I wouldn't mind getting my own Jehovah's Witnesses to play with more often.

44 comments:

  1. <python>You lucky, lucky bastard!</python> :-)

    Nah, only kidding. But I don't know how many times I've played out that same conversation in my head in the vain hope that a JW or two would bang on my door.

    Nicely done.

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  2. I'm a Sikh, not an atheist, but I have a good friend who grew up a JW and it took her 40 years to get out. They are damned ruthless and dangerous with their own. I am highly gratified you got the best of them.

    BTW, we don't proselytise, but we do give out a lot of free food to rich and poor alike.

    Come visit my blog, if you like. http://roadtokhalistan.blogspot.com/

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  3. I always feel like Mr. Burns...sitting in an office, over-looking the nuclear power plant, when the JWs or LDS come-a-preachin: "Smithers...release the hounds." Only, the hounds are logical, concise arguments.

    I have this to say about your afternoon: "Exxxxxxxxxxxcelent."

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  4. Too bad you didn't get that on video to broadcast it on google video...which is how i watch atheist-experience. good work russell.

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  5. Anonymous6:28 AM

    You replied: "I am an atheist because I don't believe in any evidence for God." Here is the crux of the problem, Kazim: proving or disproving a spiritual, non-physical existence is impossible without an even bigger leap of faith.

    To know directly that God doesn't exist assumes that you have full knowledge from every corner of the visible and invisible universe (assuming God is confined to space and not in non-space). It would seem obvious that disproving God's existence requires a whole lot more 'faith' or 'believing' than actually believing in God. For example, just look at how many times you said 'I believe' to describe your position.

    In general, agnostics may hold a more tenable and 'honest' position. They just admit they don't know. But you admit to playing with the JW's. For you this all seems to be a head game. It may seem justifiable to you, since the JW's appeared at your door ready to debate a position.

    God exists in the realm of the heart, Kazim, not the mind. If you are really serious about your current 'beliefs', I would suggest that your only job is to be intellectually honest and open to the possibility of something more--something that exists outside one's typical realm of awareness/perception. I have prayed that you recognize God when you see God in your heart.

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    Replies
    1. It's true that humans don't and probably will never have 'full knowledge' of the entire universe and, following that line of argument, therefore will never be able to conclusively prove or disprove anything. But it's nonetheless reasonable to only believe in those things that are, by all available evidence, suggested to be true.

      For example, if an individual approaches me and tells me that I have a entirely new and currently undetectable disease, which only he can divine the presence of, and that it will kill me in a set amount of days -

      Well, frankly speaking, I don't have any conclusive evidence that this isn't the case. But I all the same would believe that it is a fabrication, on the grounds that there is no evidence to support it either.

      Clearly put, I would believe in the disease if its existence was proven. Otherwise, I'd continue to - and, in most people's views, quite reasonably - believe in its non-existence.

      However, for some reason, many people won't apply this same logic to religion. The fact that religion has not been definitely, 100% conclusively disproven is irrelevant to me. All available evidence points to its non-existence, and evidence suggesting otherwise is non-existent itself. What reason do I have, therefore, to believe in it?

      As for religion being 'in the realm of the heart' - that's simply dismissing the importance of evidence altogether. It's fine if you think religious beliefs are mainly based on emotion; in fact, I would agree with you. But, firstly, many people - including myself - do not possess nor require that emotional attachment to religion, and secondly that emotional attachment, even when present, is in my opinion not a sufficient substitute for actual evidence.

      Delete
  6. I've neither won the lotto of getting jury duty nor JWs. I'd like to think I would handle myself half as well as you did.

    I only hope that when anonymous (above) is visited by faithful harbingers of the Sacred Ghost Monkey Hordes of Quetzal Quatl, she won't think she can deny their spiritual, non-physical existence without a whole lot more 'faith' or 'believing' than actually believing in them.

    But since they exist outside one's typical realm of awareness / perception -- in the realm of the heart, not the mind -- I'm sure anon will understand that she'll just have to take their existence on faith, and sign up.

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  7. Anonymous:

    I am an agnostic atheist. I don't claim absolute certainty that God doesn't exist. I only ascribe that opinion a level of confidence similar to that with which I assert that there are no leprechauns or unicorns. So, thanks for telling me that my position is reasonable.

    But you admit to playing with the JW's. For you this all seems to be a head game. It may seem justifiable to you, since the JW's appeared at your door ready to debate a position.

    I told them I was an outspoken atheist up front. They must have known I didn't expect to be converted. They stayed of their own free will. Was it wrong of me to enjoy myself?

    God exists in the realm of the heart, Kazim, not the mind.

    I couldn't agree with you more. I don't doubt that he "exists" in your emotions. The question I'm interested in is whether God exists in reality, and it looks to me like you would take a pass on answering that question. Fine with me.

    I have prayed that you recognize God when you see God in your heart.

    I'll let you know if your prayers ever come true. If they don't work after a reasonable amount of time, I trust that you'll join me in seeing this as evidence that God didn't answer your prayers.

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  8. Anonymous8:55 AM

    I've been visited recently by the JWs and they were nice enough during our brief encounter. I did not choose to engage them in any biblical points, because it isn't the point for me. If you already have an experiential relationship with one's Creator, what's the sense? Throughout my life I've been able to 'prove' the existence of God in the laboratory of my heart and experiences. For me, God is very real and he isn't just a mental or emtional concept. I'm very much a thinker--much more than an emotional being. I've also worn many hats on this planet--so I'm steeped in certain realities as a jobber chemist, ED physician, published author & photographer, poet and existential philosopher-of-sorts, stock market and website programmer, and temporarily now, more or less a gardener and home improvement buff. Consciousness is such a great gift as is the play here on earth.

    My experience has been that God's existence is very different from our own. His substance is so different from our own that we can't see him or hear him or touch him unless we are open to the surprise that he isn't much like our preconceived notions of who and what 'he' is. The closest my mind can get at grasping him, is that he exists outside space and time and substance while fully inhabiting all three. One aspect of his existence is that he is the matrix upon which all that exists, exists.
    As an atom in the big chair of universe, it's hard to conceive of a reality where the chair exists in a home filled with homes full of chairs. And all those homes are made of a substance different than the ultimate reality.

    Sorry I posted anonymously before, but I don't have a google identity and I am not in the habit of blogging. In fact, this is rare for me to write anything on someone's blog. I just happened upon this accidently. Also, I hope that last post didn't seem like I was thinking myself better than anyone else who posts here. I try to live my life like we are all the same on the deepest levels. So I try to welcome everyone with the love and respect you all deserve. For me, I experience you as me, having had different experiences and circumstances. So meeting the JWs is an opportunity to meet another version of me.

    Mike

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  9. Came here from the Atheist Experience blog. Great story.

    Hope you get a Mormon next....

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  10. Andrew11:35 AM

    Great job Russell! I think you did very well, and I am also impressed by your ability to recall the conversation so vividly. I always find myself well off-topic in scatter-brained, religious conversations.


    Anonymous’ first comment:

    You replied: "I am an atheist because I don't believe in any evidence for God." Here is the crux of the problem, Kazim: proving or disproving a spiritual, non-physical existence is impossible without an even bigger leap of faith.

    To know directly that God doesn't exist assumes that you have full knowledge from every corner of the visible and invisible universe (assuming God is confined to space and not in non-space).

    Russell never claimed to "know" god doesn't exist. He said he didn't "believe" that one did.

    Gnostic comes from the Greek "gnosis" which means knowledge. So Agnostic literally means "no knowledge" or "without knowledge". It has come to mean: Someone who claims that they do not know or are unable to know whether God exists.

    Theism means: Believing in a deity or deities (god/gods). A belief in religion. (Greek theos: god). So Atheism means "no belief in god(s)" or "without belief in god(s)".

    Would you claim to "know" that unicorns do not exist? No, because you can never truly "know" that with 100% certainty. You can, however, believe (logically based on a lack of evidence) that they do not exist. The same holds true with deities.

    I suggest you read Vic Stenger's new book God: The Failed Hypothesis. This book deals with some of your assertions. You say that your god exists in a spiritual, non-physical existence in essence: supernatural. Yet then you claim that you pray, which (I have to assume) means that you believe your god answers prayers. That means your supernatural god would have to manifest in the natural world. These types of manifestations (defined by your religion as in the character of your god) are scientifically testable, and the basis for the issues covered in the book.

    Your second comment:
    Throughout my life I've been able to 'prove' the existence of God in the laboratory of my heart and experiences.

    You interpret your experiences and your special knowledge based on previous experiences (your brain is literally wired around these fundamental beliefs from an early age). You believe that it is god you feel in your heart because you have been taught to think that is what you are feeling.

    For me, God is very real and he isn't just a mental or emtional concept.

    You just said he was in your previous sentence.

    The closest my mind can get at grasping him, is that he exists outside space and time and substance while fully inhabiting all three.

    Wow, that sounds great, but it is truly hollow. You say your god is supernatural and natural. Therefore testable, and yet no evidence exists... So what is the real basis for your proof? Nothing... a feeling you’ve interpreted through your consciousness built upon a foundation of unjustified assumptions.

    As an atheist, I have come to understand that many otherwise reasonable people believe in god because they "feel it in their heart". Despite what you may think, this IS an emotional justification. I do not put complete trust in my feelings, I trust in my ability to reason rationally.

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  11. Oh to be a fly on the wall! I've fantasized about doing this same thing but I don't have nearly the patience to put up with them. Good job Russell!

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  12. Russell and anonymous,
    As an atheist and someone who was a JW I can say it's very beneficial for people like Russell to do what he did. Someone woke me up to that cult when they made me question it. All the JW's abandoned me when I said I no longer believed. Russell was honest and they chose to stay and argue. The JW mentality is to win someone over to the Watchtower with their tracts and door to door presentations. I did it and that is the mentality. As far as what happens after we die in the JW world, they think 144,000 will reign with Jesus over the other JW's. The non-JW's will remain in a dead state, unaware.

    The JW's came to my door right before Easter and I told them I'm an apostate,left the Watchtower society. That sends them running usually. We are "of this world" and they don't associate with "worldly" people.

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  13. Well done, the last time I saw the JW's coming I double checked to make sure I was right and then simply didn't bother opening the door, I'm rarely composed enough to 'enjoy' it so it's more just an annoyance at best--- still, they're amusing, the last time we did let them in we almost died laughing---

    First, the person started to say something about 'the bible' -- to which my wife immediately questioned, 'which one?' (as you may know she was raised Catholic, I was raised Protestant and we both took at least a handful of comparative religion and biblical history classes in college, so we have a darn good clue as to what is in the bible, how it came to be, etc... unlike most door to door evangelists it would seem.... this lady basically just went, 'uh, well, uh you know, the bible!'

    As I know you are aware-- 'the bible is the bible!' is not an accurate statement--- a liberal reading reading of the NRS vs a fundamentalist reading of the King James vs any interpretation of the book of Mormon by a practicing mormon will all produce VASTLY different understandings of morality, theology, and even science and history

    somehow JW's seem to go out of their way to claim to NOT be what they are (which you noticed and I agree seems a little weird and in the end counter productive)--- likewise with the 'watchtower'--- which we were handed with the phrase 'this isn't a political pamphlet' (even though the cover had big letters proclaiming 'more trouble in the middle east?')-- talk about LOL denial!

    anyway, good job of keeping your cool and having fun with it... the older I get the less patience I seem to have in directly engaging anyone on points about which I fundamentally disagree with them... strangers included but, friends, family, and co-workers being even more so this way

    Al

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  14. David Johnson10:54 PM

    You think that that was fun? We have had a rash of Mormons door knocking in the 'hood lately. Talk about the silliest dogma!!

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  15. Anonymous12:12 PM

    "silly dogma"...isn't that redundant?

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  16. Great work Kazim. They will be reworking their scripts and arguments to counter your answers.

    I always found the Watchtower good for lining litter trays.

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  17. Great story! I really enjoyed reading it. Keep up the good work!

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  18. Hello,

    The following original Beliefnet videos on Jehovah's Witnesses might be of interest to your web readers:

    http://www.beliefnet.com/story/218/story_21887_1.html

    Please feel free to link to them.

    Best regards,
    Beliefnet.com

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  19. Huzzah! Well done. If only the JWs would figure out that trying to prove the existence of God with science- and logic-based arguments leads directly to agnosticism, if not outright atheism. Mormons tend to get drawn into those sorts of arguments, too, even though they tell us not to. We call it "resolving concerns" so we can get to the main idea of "read and pray and listen with your heart", which has the strength and weakness of being non-scientific. (Strength? Well, obviously science can't find God, so either he's not out there, or he's not scientifically findable.)

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  20. Anonymous11:11 AM

    SUMMARIES OF OVER 550 JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES LAWSUITS & COURT CASES


    The following website summarizes over 250 lawsuits filed by Jehovah's Witnesses against their Employers, and/or incidents involving problem JW Employees:

    EMPLOYMENT ISSUES UNIQUE TO JEHOVAH'S WITNESS EMPLOYEES

    http://jwemployees.bravehost.com


    The following website summarizes 300 U.S. court cases and lawsuits affecting children of Jehovah's Witness Parents, including 100+ cases where the JW Parents refused to consent to life-saving blood transfusions for their dying children:

    DIVORCE, BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS, AND OTHER LEGAL ISSUES AFFECTING CHILDREN OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES

    http://jwdivorces.bravehost.com

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  21. Over time I had my oun runs with JHW... I can understand you over why to debate with them. I find it rater stimulant, but alas, that doesn't hapen anymore :( I've seen them nowadays avoiding my home.

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  22. Jehovah's Witnesses beliefs:

    A) They are at your door to recruit you for enslavement to their watchtower corporation,they will say that "we are just here to share a message from the Bible" this is deception right off.

    B) Their 'message' is a false Gospel that Jesus had his second coming in 1914.The problem with this is it's not just a cute fairy tale,Jesus warned of the false prophets who would claim "..look he is here in the wilderness,or see here he is at the temple..."

    C) Their anti-blood transfusion ban has killed hundreds if not thousands

    D) once they recruit you they will "love bomb" you in cult fashion to also recruit your family & friends or cut them off. There are many more dangers,Jehovah's Witnesses got a bad rap for good and valid reasons.

    99% of the world has rejected the teachings of the Watchtower Jehovah’s Witnesses, the darker truth is they are a destructive and oppressive organization.
    --
    Danny Haszard Jehovah's Witness X 33 years

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  23. Anonymous4:19 PM

    It's really too bad you had no intention of having a real conversation with them, it's obivious from your tone that you were just trying to gode them along and argue with them

    By the way, science has never proven the earth is millions, or even billions of years old, it's just a theory. Like all scientific "facts," the science community gets together, makes a consensus, and then releases the new "fact." There is absolutely no way whatsoever to prove that carbob dating and other methods of showing earth's age is accurant for more than 6000 years old. Why? Because there is no way to truly get a set date for anything before that time and show proof that the atomic structur decays at the rate they theorize. There is no way to prove that over 6000 years, that outside influences doen't affect the cycle. As a matter of fact, there was a study a while back ago that "dated" some lava rocks from millions of years ago when they knew the rocks were created less than a hundred years ago.

    How people can't see the natural order of a designer is beyond me. How people can't see the prophecies of the bible come true in every single case is beyond me. How people can't realize how people 2k-4k years ago talked about things that scientists didn't prove until the past few hundred years, and even those same scientists said the bible was wrong until they proved otherwise, is also beyond me.

    I guess life is good being ignorant.

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  24. Dear Anonymous guy who doesn't like arguments, yet came on my blog to argue and refused to identify himself,

    It's really too bad you had no intention of having a real conversation with them, it's obivious from your tone that you were just trying to gode them along and argue with them

    How is arguing with them not having a conversation? I mean, they were there to convince me of their position, and I disagreed with it. What other kind of conversation would you expect to take place under those circumstances.

    Let me just enumerate the amusing things in the next paragraph:

    By the way, science has never proven

    "Proof" isn't a concept that applies to science. "Confirm through evidence" is, and of course, it has.

    the earth is millions, or even billions of years old, it's just a theory.

    And, the creationist demonstrates the usual complete lack of comprehension of what the word "theory" means.

    Like all scientific "facts," the science community gets together, makes a consensus, and then releases the new "fact."

    Given this misperception of how things work, it's clear that you're not simply anti-evolution, you're ultimately anti-science. Why does this not surprise me?

    There is absolutely no way whatsoever to prove that carbob dating and other methods of showing earth's age is accurant for more than 6000 years old. Why?

    Because if anyone wanted to prove it *to you*, they would find themselves unable to penetrate your thick skull with any amount of evidence, since as you just indicated, you're opposed to science and reason in general.

    Because there is no way to truly get a set date for anything before that time and show proof that the atomic structur decays at the rate they theorize. There is no way to prove that over 6000 years, that outside influences doen't affect the cycle. As a matter of fact, there was a study a while back ago that "dated" some lava rocks from millions of years ago when they knew the rocks were created less than a hundred years ago.

    Wow, I'm sure that no one has heard THAT one before. Which one of these did you mean, if any?
    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CD/CD010.html
    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CD/CD012.html
    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CD/CD013.html
    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CD/CD013_1.html

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  25. Anonymous12:23 AM

    DAAANNNNG, you're gooood.....I'm impressed. I'm not an atheist but I agree with many of your points.

    I know they must've wanted to pull their hair out while they were there. I'm actually surprised they were able to actually sustain an argument for that long. Most of the JWs I grew up would not have been able to.

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  26. JW's also have to report the number of hours they spend each month in their preaching work.

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  27. Anonymous9:03 PM

    To Anonymous: This has been bothering me and has not been addressed as such; lack of belief does not constitute a belief in and of itself. That would be a logical fallacy.

    Regards,
    Jeremy

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  28. Food for thought in response to:

    Naturally, they started to mount a defense of how "Biblical" slavery is different from slavery as we know it, which I headed off by asking if it would be a good idea to bring back Biblical slavery in modern times. It was a roundabout discussion, but eventually the answer (to my somewhat surprise) was "yes." So I said "I guess that's one way that my understanding of morality differs from the Bible. I believe that slavery is wrong, and clearly you do not."


    Awhile back I ran a post entitled Slavery in the Old Testament,

    http://tinyurl.com/3qvjk2

    intending to counter those critics who rail against the Bible for acknowledging and regulating slavery, rather than forbidding it. The post clarified the nature of OT slavery and, to my surprise, some commented that such slavery sounded pretty good compared to the plight of the homeless today, or even the working poor. (see comments following the post) One fellow named Screech even broke it down into figures which I will reproduce, confident he won’t mind:

    “In the US minimum wage is currently $5.85 an hour. Lets suppose that you work 2 jobs; one FT and one PT. So 12 hours at that pay is $70.20 before taxes. After taxes are withheld, you have $56.87 a day left. You spend $65 (you have a cheap one) at your doctor's office. You get lucky and only spend $4 on the antibiotics that you need. You also are forced to take 3 days off from both jobs while you recover. Total cost is $239.58. That's four and a half days of pay. So if you have rent of $650 monthly, $135 monthly utilities (phone, electricity), $100 monthly food, $50 transportation costs. Now, in the above scenario, you have $200 left over every month. However, if you lose one of your jobs, suddenly you're short almost $200 monthly. What if you have a kid? 2 Jobs may not be an option and then you have to pay for daycare. Then you hear "go back to school." Yet if you have to take remedial classes to catch up, that adds to the expense (grants alone rarely cover everything). I guess the whole point of this rambling is that to overcome poverty in this world takes an astounding amount of sacrifice and will, with no guarantee of success. In fact, you also don't get real medical attention because the medical bills can pile up. I've seen and experienced the difference in medical care that you receive when you can afford to pay the bill vs not. It's actually a worse situation today…”

    The type of slavery practiced in the OT isn't so bad in comparison.

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  29. So you think it's a fine and dandy thing to own human beings, then? Would you support bringing the biblical version of slavery back in modern times?

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  30. So you think it's a fine and dandy thing to own human beings, then?

    I don't think I said that. However, it (the biblical version of slavery) would appear to offer a marked improvement in the lives of millions of the world's working poor, to say nothing of its homeless.

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  31. Then are you saying that the moral thing to do would be to enslave them for their own good? Why or why not?

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  32. The OT slavery model was originated by God as part of a social system for an ancient people. They were focused in one small geographical area, they were of common origin, they were united in following a common law (also God-originated). We, today, are not that ancient people. None of those circumstances apply to us. I'm not advocating bringing that slavery back. It is but one componant of a whole that has long since become history. We don't observe anything else from that time period....why think you could import this feature out of its context? Moreover, it would not be for us to bring it back, anyway. It was a God-originated, not man-originated system. We, given our norms and backdrop and morals, would manage to turn it into a Guantanimo.

    For sake of argument, let's call those OT slaves "down and outs." I don't say their life was peaches. But before trashing a system, you ought to be able to replace it with something better. As argued previously, the lot of today's down and outs is not better overall than the lot of those old-time Israelite down-and-outs. In many ways, it is worse. The ancient system at least provided food, shelter, and a measure of physical well-being for the down and outs under it. Today's modern "system" frequently does not.

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  33. Great exchange. Love it.

    I have also encountered this "Biblical slavery was sort of okay" claim.

    Bizarre.

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  34. For sake of argument, let's call those OT slaves "down and outs."

    That's a clever idea, Tom, because it helps you gloss over the fact that they were directly owned. And not figuratively owned in the sense of selling your soul to the company store. I mean that their masters could:

    - Beat them up, inflicting any amount of injuries, without penalty, as long as they didn't die. (Exodus 21:20)
    - Check that: It's okay if they die, as long as it takes more than two days. (Exodus 21:21)
    - Rape the female slaves without severe punishment (as per Leviticus 19:20-22, the master pays a fine, but THE SLAVE is punished with scourging).
    - Enslave civilian women and children from pillaged lands. (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)
    - Hold a slave's wife hostage, in order to coerce him into not leaving when his term is up. (Exodus 21:4)
    - Mark the slave with a spike driven through their ear. (Exodus 21:5-6)

    But by all means, let's just call them "down and out," since it's so much more palatable.

    The OT slavery model was originated by God as part of a social system for an ancient people. They were focused in one small geographical area, they were of common origin, they were united in following a common law (also God-originated). We, today, are not that ancient people. None of those circumstances apply to us.

    I never realized that the God of the Bible was so big on moral relativism. He seems to demand a lot of major behavior changes in so many other places, but holding people as slaves? Well that's no problem, it's just your circumstances. We understand.

    But before trashing a system, you ought to be able to replace it with something better. As argued previously, the lot of today's down and outs is not better overall than the lot of those old-time Israelite down-and-outs.

    See, when you say things like this you make me think that you're just not all that serious about slavery being justified only by time period. Seriously, if you think this is true then why NOT propose a re-acceptance of slavery? Perhaps you could go around to minimum wage workers and propose to them that you take them as your servants for life, mark them with a spike through their ear, and only SOMETIMES beat them, not quite severely enough that they die within two days?

    Let me know how they react.

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  35. $7.25 per hour 12 months after that (2009-07-24).

    The Federal minimum Wage has not been $5.85 since July of 2007 and climbed in increments since them to its current rate of $7.25 on July 24th, 2009. So your math is way off.

    I've take the liberty of updating your post with a more realistic bent.

    “In the US minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour. Lets suppose that you work 2 jobs; one FT and one PT. So 12 hours at that pay is $87.00 before taxes. After taxes are withheld, you have $74 a day left. You go to an Urgent Care and spend $40.00 while reading the paper you mutter under your breath about Republicans and their ideas to repleal National Health Care coverage. You get lucky and go to Walmart where the antibiotics that you need are free. You also are forced to take 3 days off from both jobs while you recover. Total cost is $0.00 unless your counting lost wages in which case you would be looking at a loss of $222.00 So if you have rent of $650 month but you were smart enough to share an apartment with a co worker so it only $325, $65 monthly your split of the electric and water, you don't have a phone because face it when moneys tight you cut corner. $100 monthly food, $50 transportation costs. Now, in the above scenario, you have $688 left over every month. However, if you lose one of your jobs, suddenly you're short almost $200 monthly. Which would put you around $488 a month, with that you might even be able to afford cable and a cell phone."

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  36. tom sheepandgoats, just for curiosity's sake: As I understand you, you claim that slavery was not especially bad for slaves because, at least, someone took care of them, which is more than one could say for many people in our society.
    Which part of this great institution for the helpless would have been impaired if the masters had not had the complete ownership Russell just explained in his last comment?
    Would it not have worked just as well if the slaves could have chosen whether to work for their masters or just leave?

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  37. Muriel:

    Essentially, the conditions you suggest were the reality of OT slavery. They could choose. And they could leave. There were time frames involved, but they could do both. Excerpts follow from the post I linked to in my initial comment:

    “And when scripture [the Old Testament Law] was law of the land, we read of a "seven year temporary slavery" arrangement in Israel. How did that work?
    Israelites back then, like everyone else, had an economy. And like today, through an interplay of hard work and dumb luck, some would prosper and some would become impoverished. What do you do with those who become impoverished? What do we do with them today? Has today's society found a workable and ideal solution? In ancient Israel, individuals, if they became desperate enough, could sell themselves into slavery to their more prosperous neighbors. (they were never taken by force) That's not so good, some might object, yet is today's solution to poverty really any better?
    Though Bible critics rarely mention it, preferring  to take shot after shot at anything religious: after seven years, such slaves were set free! Sooner, if they became slaves before the designated seventh year. And not set free back into poverty. Each Jew was restored to his original hereditary possession, which he may have sold off during periods of poverty. Thus, there would never be generation after generation of permanent poverty, as there is today. Nor would the rich become so entrenchedly rich that ones born into it would come to look at wealth as their right and imagine themselves superior to the less well-off. The obscene lopsided distribution of wealth, characteristic of most societies today, never got a footing in Israel.”


    Perhaps, then, as Russell seeks to familiarize himself with that which he is condemning, he will acknowledge that “down and outs” is not a bad description of those enrolling himself into that system of slavery. Moreover, his “perhaps you could go around to minimum wage workers and propose to them that you take them as your servants for life” is inapplicable, as the slaves we're speaking of could be freed (per their choice) every seventh year.

    Slavery as practiced toward prisoners of war (the same linked-to post addresses this) was admittedly not so agreeable, but this is not the slavery Russell is writing of. (see his excerpt which I quoted, again in my original comment.)

    To save the scrolling, here, again, is the above-mentioned post:
    http://tinyurl.com/3qvjk2

    I'll also link to another post which discusses the economic system in OT Israel (scroll a bit), since that is the backdrop for their slavery. This post also addresses Russell's charge of relativism:
    http://tinyurl.com/d4stey

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  38. Kermit:

    $7.25 per hour 12 months after that (2009-07-24).

    The Federal minimum Wage has not been $5.85 since July of 2007 and climbed in increments since them to its current rate of $7.25 on July 24th, 2009. So your math is way off.


    The math is not off. The comment you mention was submitted at about the time you mention...July 2007. So it was all valid then. Is it your contention that they plight of the down-and-outs has dramatically improved since then?

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  39. Its my contention that you can jumble the numbers how ever you want, I could have added a line where the guy takes his last dollar plays the scratch off lotto and becomes a millionaire, because at the end of the day your scenario is just one in 10 billion plus. I suggest the next time you have a few minutes stop by a homeless person on the street and pitch this idea. I'm sure they will be are for it, and if they aren't then fuck'em they probably are true Christians anyway right?

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  40. Slavery as practiced toward prisoners of war (the same linked-to post addresses this) was admittedly not so agreeable

    To you, maybe. To your imaginary friend who is the source of unchanging morality, it's all just dandy.

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  41. Danmera9:08 AM

    I am delighted but very surprised they talked to you for that long. (former JW here)The internal teachings are moving more into the area of keeping the numbers they have vs getting new recruits.

    They are being taught not to give the house holder (non-jws) "too much power" by allowing questions and discussion. Too many are waking up to the reality of the Watchtower corp because so many at the doors are informed. This is a "religion" in trouble, love to see folks putting the pressure on them to think. They are taught that "independent thinking" and critical thinking are from Satan. *face palm*

    I would love to know if you get a follow up visit from an "elder" (ohh ahh) or maybe even a "circuit overseer" (squeal). That would make for a great discussion, they will tell you with "absolute truth" everything you need to know haha.

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  42. Damera, that was five years ago. No followup.

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  43. Good effort here. I spoke to JW's a few times which was a complete waste of time for me and for them. Logic is not part of their religion or teachings. It is impossible to have a decent conversation with people who have a widespread disregard for factual information.

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