Saturday, October 21, 2006

Jehovah's Witnesses

It was just as I had finished wrestling with the front door today, trying to get the damn thing to lock, when I saw them coming down the front drive. They were, unmistakably, evangelists of some kind or another - a pair of smartly dressed disciples, each with a black leather carry case tucked sensibly under the arm. I was trapped. I braced myself for the inevitable spiel - the salesman's doorstopping technique, where the seller keeps talking, playing on the victim's ingrained politeness and fear of appearing to be rude by telling the talker that s/he should just go away. Actually they were quite nice. They weren't coming for me you see, but for my housemate who had been stupid or hungover enough to engage them in interested conversation a few days before. They handed me a few magazines. Jehovah's Witnesses. You've seen one of these magazines and you've seen them all - a photograph of a sunrise/sunset on the front cover, pictures inside of happy nuclear families playing with tamed, vegetarian lions in some millenarian, heavenly future, an article on 'relativism'. I said thankyou very much and I would certainly give them to my friend when I saw him.

Of course, they were interested in me, too - inasfar as one can really be interested in just one more miserable heathen wretch amongst a whole city - country - world of the fallen, amongst whom one must fish for souls from time to time in order to appease one's terrible, inscrutable master. I told them I was an atheist (I lie actually - I'm agnostic). I wasn't sure if it was a good idea or not, because, surely, they had their 'I'm an atheist' retort off by heart and lined up ready to go. Luckily, they didn't launch into anything and I managed to get away with a quick introduction to some of the topics in the magazines I was holding. Foolishly, I gave them my first name. Perhaps they'll come knocking for me next.

Still, I must say that there was something about these two that I quite liked. The talker was a woman in her forties - quite self-depreciating (a little joke about not understanding the science in the magazines - science??) and softly spoken. The young man with her was clearly a traineee, learning the holy ropes - he didn't say much, but he seemed fairly pleasant. There was none of the explicit fanaticism I often seem to encounter amongst these types - that penetrating gaze, that clear, excited drive to bludgeon one's opponent/potential convert into polite agreement.

Quite clearly, creationist religion is nonsense. I'm sure that the 'science' in the magazines is very firmly of the 'pseudo' variety. Evangelist Christianity is an escape, a cop out, a crutch - for people who want to know (or, more specifically, who want to be told) the Truth, who want a ready-made, all encompassing, doctrine of absolute certainties with which to comfort themselves, who want to avoid having to think very hard, who must have a world in which everything happens for a reason and in which everything is imbued with some some immanent meaning - a bit like orthodox Trotskyists (ffnerk). However, I can't help feeling some admiration for those people who actually go out and knock on doors, or stop people in the street. OK, you might respond that they're only doing it for their own salvation - that they're selfish bastards really. I'm not sure that's completely true, actually - it's certainly not all there is to it. I have a feeling that such arguments tend to rest implicitly on a crude 'rational choice' kind of schema in which people only act out of self-interest. People on the Left surely have reason to avoid such crudities. Yes, they are annoying and silly - but (and this is why I have some sneaking admiration for them) it's not easy to do what they do - it takes some bravery to go out and attempt to engage complete strangers in religious conversation. I have, on occasion, handed out various kinds of political leaflets in the city centre. I always find it excruciatingly embarrassing. I felt like I was laying myself bare, in a way. It's difficult to deal with the inevitable 'fuck offs' and incomprehending stares - although these are actually quite unusual. I imagine it's quite a lot harder for evangelists - so hats off to them.

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