Beware of people who knock on the door. Especially if you run a thrift store with the door wide open, which means they don’t even have to knock. On the last shift of the week (Saturday afternoon), I sustained an ideological onslaught from a Jehovah’s Witness and lived to tell the tale. This is it.
(Unfortunately I am no longer in the habit of secretly recording my customers, otherwise I would have the full event on file; as it is, I will now have to recreate it as faithfully as my traumatized memory allows.)
Enter the JW (or shall we call him the SJW, as in, Supercilious Jehovah’s Witness?)
I was sitting at my post in the thrift store, writing an email to Alison Miller about her harassment by the Satanic Temple. The man came in and recognized me but didn’t realize it at first; I also recognized him and I knew he wasn’t there to shop.
He was probably my age but looked older; or maybe he is older but trying to look younger. A full head of hair, tanned, with a rubbery face, aspiring but failing to be handsome, except in a Robert-Wagner, American TV star way—like a CEO for a ponsie scheme pseudo-company, or a Scientologist who has had the best plastic surgery he could afford. A self-made spiritual car salesman.
Though I didn’t remember exactly what org he was affiliated with, I knew I wasn’t going to want whatever he was selling. He asked, in the negative, if the owner wasn’t here. Then, as I started to tell him that one of them was, he said he knew me and, to cover himself, noted how different I looked. He said that, the last time he’d come in, I had just gone off to England, a year and a half ago or so.
I had got to my feet by now so as to give him my full attention. It was clear he would require it, one way or another. Probably my body knew what was in store and I wanted my feet planted and my arms freed up.
He got out his Watchtower magazine folder and laid it on the counter. He began by mentioning that my wife had said I was interested in reading them. This was either a lie or a mistranslation: my wife may have said to him, at one time or another, that I was interested in talking to JWs, because it is true that, against my better interests perhaps, I very occasionally do engage them in discussion (there is an older German man in town who shook Hitler’s hand as a boy, and we have talked in depth once or twice).
But talking to human beings because that is what they are is a very far cry from reading tacky JW pamphlets, the mere idea of which I found, in the moment, demeaning to my self-respect.
“No, I’m not,” I said. “I added something about being a writer and doing my own research. “I prefer to go straight to the Bible if I want to know about God,” I said, or words to that effect. I then added, somewhat apologetically, due to a deep aversion to ever misrepresenting myself, especially about God, that I hadn’t been reading the Bible much lately.
The JW continued insisting, not exactly gently but insidiously, that I read the magazines. Accordingly, I increased the pushback.
In response to my preference for reading the Bible over some shallow Reader’s Digest version, the JW assured me that the material he was offering would save me lots of time, by pointing me to all the passages in the Bible about Jesus. Otherwise, he said, I would have to read hundreds of pages of the Bible—as if that would be a bad thing to inflict on myself.
Undaunted, not yet on the defensive, and still enjoying the possibility of a real conversation developing, I stressed that I didn’t want to rely on intermediaries but preferred to go right to the source. He didn’t seem to be hearing me, however, so I decided to simplify it for him, while at the same time upping my game.
“If I want to find Jesus Christ,” I said, “I will seek him in my heart.”
If memory serves, this was the only moment that caused him momentary pause. He quickly regained his footing, however, and relaunched his ideological attack:
“The Bible says your heart is untrustworthy, so you might not want to look for Jesus there!”
I was frankly taken aback by this, though I was familiar with the reasoning. Naïvely, I asked him: “So where am I going to find Jesus if not in my heart?”
He didn’t miss a beat: “In the word of God,” he said, and pointed at his tacky binder again.
“So you’re saying that a book is a better place to look for Jesus than my own heart?”
The Witness only repeated his insistence that my heart was, verily, not to be trusted.
“Neither is the Bible,” I said. “It’s been written and rewritten and translated and retranslated, and there are hundreds of different versions by now. So while I can allow that my heart may not be entirely trustworthy . . .”
He didn’t let me finish my thought. “For someone who hasn’t read the Bible,” he said, “you seem to think you know a lot about it.”
“I didn’t say I hadn’t read it,” I replied, increasingly on edge, “just that I haven’t been reading it much lately.”
“I have read it hundreds of times,” he said, “so that must mean I understand it a lot better than you do!”
It was at this point, I think, that the Satanic JW managed to formally get my goat.
“I don’t want to be competitive,” I said, “but it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve read it, what counts is how well you understand it. And evidently you don’t understand it that well, because–”
He cut me off again, now in full patronization mode. It was apparent I had got his goat, too, because the mood in the shop had shifted from awkward encounter to full-on confrontation. I could feel his distaste for me, and I could definitely feel mine for him.
“Let me ask you a question,” he said, “and we’ll see who knows the Bible better.”
“OK,” I said, game for the Pepsi challenge.
“What is the Kingdom of Heaven?” he said.
I probably smiled, confident I was on solid ground. “That’s what I have been trying to communicate to you, isn’t it. The kingdom of heaven is something we only find by going deep wi—”
Utterly indifferent to my answer now he had confirmed it was the wrong one, he cut me off triumphantly: “The Bible says the Kingdom of Heaven is the government of God,” he crowed. “So clearly, you don’t know your Bible.” (I am not 100% sure he said that second part, but it was conveyed via the smug satisfaction with which he “trumped” me with his own, official SJW version of the Gospel.)
By now I was starting to feel consumed by disgust, and it was all I could do not to hurl childish religious insults his way (such as, calling him the Antichrist). Containing myself as best I was able, I said something about how he wasn’t doing a very good job speaking for God, in any case. He countered that, on the contrary, he had been very successful with “hundreds of families” upon whose doors he had knocked over the years.
“Well, you haven’t been very successful with me,” I said, back on solid ground again.
But he was already on his way out the door. Hoping to get the last word before he left, he tossed one last Jehovah bomb: “That’s because you’re not open!” he snapped, and turned to walk away.
“Don’t come back here!” I lobbed at his retreating back.
I was quite disoriented for a while afterwards by how quickly the meeting went south. I even complained about it to one of my customers, but it was futile. I suppose I really need to take it up with Jesus.
Recommended related reading:
11 thoughts on “The Life & Loves of a Failed Misanthrope # 8: Enter the SJW (Or: What’s the Difference Between an Ideological Encounter & a Religious Experience?)”
Not sure if you’re aware of it, but the JW organization has also been involved in a massive sexual abuse cover up spanning several decades.
I was raised a JW and have “witnessed” (pun intended) hundreds of the types of encounters you describe. It took a lot to leave this religion, but I’m so glad I did.
If you want a JW to leave quickly, you can always lie and say that you used to be a JW & left the church — they can’t have anything to do with JWs who have left the fold.
Just had some JWs at my door this weekend. I just wasn’t feeling up to it. Waved my hand, smiled, and simply said “I don’t have time for that. Have a good one.” Poor folks. Got turned away at the neighbors too. Oh well. Just. Don’t. Care. Lol.
This is terrific Jasun!
I’ve been in the situation so many times. And I hate it when my adrenals dump and I have that vacuous aggravating headrush from being offended by another human being.
Thank you for writing this. I would have loved to have listened to to that recording.
I guess a chance for a blood transfusion was off the table.
Few months ago a group of these people came trick or treating for souls on my block. I was outside in my car, and busy…”we are here talking to people about why there is so much evil and suffering in the world. Why do you think that is?”
“Welp,” says I, “who does evil deeds in this world? Evil people that’s who. I think evil people and their evil ways are the cause.”
“Yes, ” says she. “But we also believe the devil is the true source of evil in this world. ”
“So you believe in satan?”
“Yes, we do!” Says she.
“Yeah, I don’t believe in satan. But if y’all believe in satan doesn’t that mean you yourselves are satanists? Maybe just a little?”
She didn’t have a good answer, and I didn’t have time, so I sped away, and the encounter ended.
I think of missionaries, proseltyzers of all sorts as those who assail, make war on other people’s souls and beliefs. At the end of the day, this is what they are on about, however sympathetic or pitying or sincere or honeyed their pleas. As foot soldiers on the front lines of “spiritual warfare, ” they are, by definition, combatants, adversaries. And “Adversary” happens to be the epithet for a certain famous character in the bible…
I love thrift stories.
About a year and a half ago, I was stopped by two teenage girls (clearly foreign, I live in Serbia) who I assumed were looking for directions to one of the city sites, which is quite common because some street signs are in Cyrillic. However, and to my genuine surprise, they spoke excellent Serbian (with a foreign accent but near perfect grammar) and wanted to know if I believed in God and Hell. I politely engaged them in conversation because of their age shortly before enquiring which church they represented. To my chagrin, it turned out that JW have set up shop in Belgrade and that the two girls have been learning Serbo-Croatian since childhood, obviously with the intention of converting Orthodox Christians, Atheists and everyone else it seems in this part of Europe. Finally, my patience started running out, not because I was angry with them but because it became obvious from their ability to speak fluent Serbian, blind faith in Hell and the age at which they were proselytising that they were victims of abuse, what sort exactly I couldn’t guess, presumably indoctrination at the very least. The conversation was brought to an abrupt end once I enquired why they weren’t in school (school is obligatory and homeschooling is not an option). Since then, I haven’t paid much attention to JW. However, Belgrade is a small city, and although they’re not in the news, I’ve heard stories of individuals turning their backs on families and friends, and selling their possessions which they then passed on the JW. They’re most commonly referred to as a cult.
Any belief, faith or ideology that lacks solid self awareness or doubt is a prerequisite of facisim.I encountered a fundementalist saviour type years ago just walking on the street.I could of just said I’m not interested but I was curious what spiritual wares they were selling.He said his whole deal and in return I said I have read the Bible, believed in God and even prayed daily but I didn’t feel inclined to go to church or believe a certain way.He said something about not being cold but on fire for the Lord.I just said I let God tell me how to feel and that I’ll follow that not forcing myself to do something just cause.He also asked to pray with me and I said sure.Afterwords he asked if I felt different as if it was some kind of magic trick.I said nope and to take care.It didn’t matter what I said as in I could have said the exact same things he said, nothing would stop him from doing his assignment which seemed to be on autopilot.I always want to do an experiment and put a bunch of these different cult like Christian groups in a room and see what happens.You know like a larger version of the three Christ’s of ypsalanti.Will they stay the same or will one group convert the rest of them?
Your performance was great! My own way of dealing with ‘The Joes’ as we called them as kids is to puff myself up in full Jimmy Swaggart mode and start preachin’ the word of “Bob”. Subgenius is the best antidote as it’s meant to be a comical parody of their mind-twisting belief system. Ask the Jo if he has ‘slack’. Does he work for the ‘Conspiracy”? I’ve never yet had one come to the door who could manage to answer any of these questions in a semi-coherent way. I always feel like Captain Kirk in a Star Trek episode when he causes the master computer to throw sparks and catch fire when confronting it with a conundrum revealing the utter insanity of its original base programming. And maybe. Just maybe I sowed seeds of Doubt. Which is profoundly satisfying. Debating theology with them is a waste of your time. Humor is the weapon.
I used to be a JW and do the door knocking, this guy sounds like a right asshole over zealous militant type, Most of the congregation i was in were not like him. I used to dread anyone actually being interested and taking the magazine cos that would mean I’d have to go back and see if they liked them and encourage them to take a bible study.
His cutting you off sounds like a narcisstic personality disorder – all he knows is right and anything contrary will be shut down and ignored, overridden.
Interestingly you mention the 1 scripture they have twisted to their ends.
most bibles say and i’m paraphrasing – Jesus said first seek the kingdom and it is found inside of you (god within) but they translate it as you will find the kingdom of god amongst you – (in the group congregation / organization) to get that as a translation is quite a feat of linguistic manipulation.