This is a long experience, I am trying to get it down while still fresh in mind. My hope is that some might be aided in their approach to JWs by reading this, but I dunno. Read if you want to, don't read if you don't want to, and that way you'll have no business being annoyed by my having posted it.
My job has me driving all over the state of Georgia, USA throughout the week. I am well paid for doing a job to which I seem well suited, which is an ideal situation to find. On my way out of a store where I had to stop for work on Saturday (9/9/2006), I spied an older lady (probably early 80's) sitting on a bench with an NWT next to her. She was speaking to people as they passed.
I walked right up to her and asked if she was one of Jehovah's Witnesses. I told her I had some questions that no JW had yet provided me a Scriptural answer for, and I wondered if she would like to try. She happily agreed and I sat down.
I mentioned John 1:1 and her eyes lit up (she obviously knew the answer to the question I had not yet asked). I said, "I know a lot of people try to argue about whether the verse should say 'the Word was God' or 'the Word was a god', but that isn't the part my question comes from." Her expression changed from delighted certainty to one of unabashed curiosity. I said, "The verse says the Word was several things 'in the beginning', would you agree that 'in the beginning' refers to when God created the heavens and the earth?"
She said, "Well, yes. Of course." I asked if I could borrow her Bible and turned to the verse for her, since her hands had clenched it tightly in such a way that I figured she'd rather not open it.
I said, "But if YHWH, or Yahweh, or Jehovah was the onlytrue God 'in the beginning', was Jesus a false god 'in the beginning'?"
Wow! Utter consternation. I just sat for several minutes while her face went through a range of emotions, finally settling on somewhat uncertain piety, "Well, you know, Jesus was a god after his resurrection."
I said, "Oh, yes. I know that's what Jehovah's Witnesses teach. I am very well versed in the teachings of your religion. But the Bible says, 'In the beginning...the Word was a god.' So, we can't really say that 'in the beginning' would mean after his resurrection, could we?"
She got the same weird, spaced out look on her face that my mother, father, and Circuit Overseer got when faced with a question that has only one logical answer and the answer conflicts with JW dogma. It is the face of cognitive dissonance in action. I could see the moment that her trigger was tripped for the conditional program "We MUST have the truth because..." to run. Suddenly, she smiled and said, "You seem like you have studied the Bible a lot. Do you believe we are in the Last Days?"
I chuckled, reached out and touched her arm affectionately, and said, "To tell you the truth, I think that is a way to avoid the questions that I asked and move on to a point that you feel trained to discuss instead. I asked you if you wanted to try and answer my questions...I have only asked one, so far. And you haven't really given me any Scriptures or even an answer to my question."
She sighed and said, "What was your question again?" She had forgotten. Not due to poor memory, it was due to interference from cognitive dissonance, due to conditioning doing its job. This is not brainwashing. A person who is brainwashed can be brought out of their stupor by such conversations. Someone who has been subjected to long-term conditioning is HIGHLY resistant to thoughts and ideas that run contrary to those that are conditioned?usually via an elborate system of recovery patterns that disengage the uncomfortable idea or thought in favor of a more comfortable idea or thought.
I smiled, patted her arm in a friendly way, and joked, "See? That's what happens when we get distracted from what we were talking about. That's why I really want an answer to this question, not a long involved discussion about a lot of other side issues." In relegating the other discussion she wanted to have to the status of a distracting side issue, I inserted the idea that for the conversation to have any chance of success (i.e. converting me) she would have to adopt my view of these issues for the time being. This is one of the conditions JWs have been "programmed" with. It is using the principle of 'becoming all things to all persons' as a means to carry on a conversation they would otherwise quickly reject.
I asked again, "'In the beginning, was Jesus a true God or a false god?' The reason I ask is because the Bible speaks of many gods. Tammuz, Baal, Molech, Paul and Barnabas were confused with Zeus and Hermes by the people of Crete, the Philistines worshipped Dagon among other gods, Satan is referred to as a god. But all of these are false gods, whereas YHWH is portrayed in the Bible as a true God. In fact, the New World Translation repeatedly calls Him 'the [only true] God.' So, I want to know, was Jesus a true God, or a false god 'in the beginning'?"
She said, "Well, you know, 'god' and 'lord' are simply titles. So..." She trailed off, realizing that still didn't answer my question.
I said, "I realize that. But 'Chief Executive Officer' is a title, too. Titles have meaning, they aren't just words. If I am a messenger boy for a local courier and I call myself the CEO I am going to get into a lot of trouble for that, right? Why? Because I took a title I don't deserve, right?" Meantime, she is smiling and affirming the truth of what I am saying by nods and "Yes, that is true," thrown in occasionally.
"See, it seems to me that a 'god' is something that gets worship and reverence. Would you agree?"
"Well, sure," she replied.
"So the false gods got worship and reverence but they didn't deserve it, right? I mean, Paul even said that our bellies can be our gods, right?"
"Yes, that is true."
"So, in determining whether a god is a true or false god, it seem like it depends on whether they are deserving of worship and reverence, right? The ones that are true Gods deserve the title and the worship and reverence that goes along with it, while the false gods do not deserve the title or the worship or the reverence. Is that how you understand it?"
She said, "Yes. That is what the Bible teaches, and that is what Jehovah's Witnesses teach, too."
I said, "Okay, so you agree with Jehovah's Witnesses, then."
She asked, "About what?"
"About Jesus being a false god that doesn't deserve worship."
She looked like I had slapped her. She literally recoiled in shock. She said, "No, now! I never said Jesus was a false god!"
So I calmly said, "Oh, okay. Then you disagree with Jehovah's Witnesses. Jesus is a true God, deserving of worship."
She said, "I didn't say that either."
I told her I was getting confused, did she believe that Jesus was a true god or not.
She said, "I tell you, I sure wish my son was here. He's an elder and he would be able to answer this so much better than I can."
I said, "That is so sad that you guys have to rely on your clergy to answer questions about the Bible. That i one of the reasons I decided not become a part of any organized religion, there is too much dependence on men for doctrine. I think God meant for everyone who wanted to learn to be able to find the message of the Bible."
"We don't have a clergy, it is just that he knows...well, the elders know so much more about the Bible than I do."
I said, "Yes. That is what a clergy is, clergy are the authorities in the church who are believed to know more about the Bible or religious doctrine than the laity, and the laity are the ones they teach or pastor. You just described a clergy/laity division."
She reaffirmed, "Yes, but, we don't have a clergy."
"Maybe you just call it something different, but what you said about the elders describes what the dictionary calls a 'clergy'. Either way, you need someone else to talk to me about the Bible, which is often the case with the Jehovah's Witnesses I speak to. It seems like some are perceived as having special knowledge or understanding."
She got a little pious and said, "Well, I only have one example that I follow," and she started trying to find 1 Peter 2:21, "Paul said something about it..." as she turns through 1st and 2nd Corinthians, "...or maybe it was Peter..."
Intentionally paraphrasing, I said, "You mean where it says 'Christ was a pattern for us and we ought to follow his steps'?"
She said, "Yes!"
I said, "1 Peter 2:21."
She flipped to it AND READ IT TO ME, even though I had just stated the point she was trying to draw from it. Which, inwardly, made it tough for me to keep a straight face as I thought of Disney's animatronics going through programmed motions whether or not anyone is in the park to see it. She declared in a rather cute imperious tone (coming from a frail, older black woman), "And THAT'S who I follow!"
I said, "I am sure you believe you do, but Jesus sought out people the organization of his day shunned; people who were cut off from Jewish society, cut off from the synagogue. But you go along with your elder's decisions even though you don't personally know that the people punished by the elders deserved the punishment."
She said, "Oh yes. We know. Because first the elders go and try to counsel with the person and help them to change their bad behavior. Then if the person isn't repentant they are cut off, just like the Bible says."
I grinned, "Can you show me where the Bible says..."
She cut me off, "Oh, yes. Right here in 1 Corinthians..."
I interjected, "Are you going for 'not even eating a meal with such a man'?" She was. "What I want to see is where the Bible says that the elders would be the ones to decide for the whole congregation whether someone was repentant. The elders could make a mistake either way, judging an unrepentant one repentant, or a repentant one as unrepentant. Why should they take the place of the congregation."
She said, "Well Jesus said they should be treated as a tax collector and a man of the nations."
"Okay. How did Jesus treat tax collectors and men of the nations? It seems to me he healed Jairus' daughter and expelled demons from the daughter of the Phoenician woman that he compared to a puppy. He called both Matthew and Zacchaeus to be his disciples. The Pharisees rightly accused him of eating with the tax collectors and the sinners. So what did he mean when he said to treat them as tax collectors and people of the nations?"
She said, "Well, I never really thought about that." To me, this was a MAJOR breakthrough.
So, I pressed my luck when I likely should have [smacks forehead while chanting "Dummy! Dummy! Dummy!"] and said, "More to the point, when Jesus said what to do if someone commits a sin the elders or congregational authorities aren't included at any stage. He said to go first to the person by yourself. Then take one or two other people, he didn't specify that the others should be elders or Christians or anyone special, any two people would do. Then, if they didn't listen, go to the congregation. Not the elders, to the congregation. That is what the Bible directly says to do. Why does your organization teach something different?"
Again, the cognitive dissonance face. This time, phase two condition kicked in, she mentioned she didn't have time to continue but that it was really an interesting discussion. I readily agreed. She asked the first phase question again. Which said to me she wasn't quite done considering what I had to say and was looking for a point of contention that she could shut off her mind, because of.
I said I'd rather not answer because I didn't think she like my answer. She pressed the point, so I said, "I know that Jehovah's Witnesses started out teaching that we were in the Last Days from 1799 onward, back when they were still calling themselves Bible Students..." She interjected, "No. From 1914 onward." I restated, "They started out teaching that the Last Days were from 1799 onward, that the 'time of great trouble' or 'Great Tribulation' started in 1874, when Jesus returned invisibly..." She interjected, "That also happened in 1914..."
I sighed and said, "Ma'am, I'm not talking about what they currently teach, I am talking about what was taught in the first issue of Zion's Watchtower and Herald of Christ's Presence in 1879. I have that publication on a CD at my home, I know what they were teaching at that time. Have you read that issue?"
She said, "Well, no, but I know what we teach!"
I said, "I am sure you do, but you apparently don't know what they used to teach, and since I have read it with my own two eyes I am sure of what they used to teach. I don't mean any disrespect, but what they currently teach does not match what they used to teach. Have you ever heard of the divine plan of the ages?"
"Oh, yes! I have a book at home that has a picture of it."
I said, "Have you ever read that book?"
"No, that is old doctrine. We don't believe that anymore, so there is really no need to read it."
I said, "But I am talking about old doctrine. If you know there is old doctrine that Jehovah's Witnesses no longer teach, and you have chosen not to investigate the old doctrine, can you reasonably tell me I am wrong when I tell you what they used to teach?"
"Well, no, I suppose not. You have a point there."
I continued, "The 'time of trouble' was to extend to 1914 or early 1915 when Armageddon was due..." She interjected, "But no one knows the day or the hour, they couldn't have taught that." I said, "I agree, but they taught it just the same. Then, C.T. Russell died in 1916. From 1918 to 1922 J.F. Rutherford gave a talk all over everywhere entitled, 'The World Has Ended?Millions Now Living Will Never Die." She interjected, "Yes. That's right. 1922 was the year I was born (making her around 84 years old). In fact, I have that book somewhere. The 'Millions Now Living' one."
I said, "I'm guessing you never read it for yourself..." She nodded, "You're right." I continued, "...because, if you had you would know that what I saying about the old doctrine is true. That talk series and book states that the world DID END in 1914 as scheduled." She looked stunned to the core. I paused before continuing, "It also said that in 1925 people who were servants of God could expect their infirmities to be miraculously healed and that we could expect to welcome the 'ancient worthies' such as Daniel, Abraham, and Moses back from the dead. The final end was also due to come in 1925, the physical manifestation of the spiritual end of the world that had already occurred."
This time, the cognitive dissonance was STRONG. I had gone too far, too fast. She said, "Well let me just ask this: Do you believe we are living in the Last Days?" I asked, "Why do you believ we are? What criteria do you use?" She turned to 1 Timothy 3:1-5 (programmed response) and noted that there would be no natural affection. She said, "When I was little girl, parents loved their children and children loved their parents." I said, "This was when you were a little girl?" She nodded. I said, "You said you were born in 1922. When you were a little girl, Jehovah's Witnesses were teaching that we were already in the last days, and that we had been ever since 1799. Were you born in the Last Days?"
She said, "Yes." Her eyes glazed over, probably reminiscing about some halcyon youth that never actually happened.
I said, "Then, obviously parents didn't love their children, and children didn't love their parents when you were young."
She said, "But they were getting worser. Things kept getting worser. It is progressively getting worse now, you hear about kids killing their parents."
I said, "Have you ever heard of Lizzy Borden?" She said, "No, who is that?" I said, "Nevermind. It isn't important."
"I really have to go now, I am late for an appointment. But why do you think we aren't in the Last Days?"
I said, "Ma'am, if you were born in 1722 instead of 1922, you would have been dead by age 60 if you survived past age 10. You have already lived 22 years longer than you could have expected to live back then."
I continued, "If you were to transport someone from the Dark Ages into the 21st Century..." She interjected, "20th Century." I restated, "21st Century, this is the 21st Century, if you were to transport a woman from the Dark Ages, between 450 and 1000 AD, that was free of the Black Plague and smallpox, that had never known anything but a life of the wife of a serf, that scraped daily for sustenance, who was property in a very real legal sense, and you dropped her into a modern 21st Century city anywhere on earth, she would believe she had arrived in heaven. The crime rate now is nothing compared to what that woman would have lived through, poverty affects less of the world than ever before, there is less starvation and hunger per capita worldwide than at any time prior in the whole of civilized human history. I don't think we are in the Last Days because I do not choose to look only at the negatives. I understand that Jehovah's Witnesses are trained to do so."
At this point she waved me off saying, "I tell you the truth, when I first started talking to you I thought this young man might be able to see the truth. But if you can't see we are living in the Last Days, you really are blind. You need to do something for me. You need to pray as you study."
She was saying this very kindly, not aggressively. I said, "I'll tell you what, I will agree to pray as I study if you will agree to ask your son the elder one question for me."
She said, "Okay, what is the question?"
I said, "How can Jehovah's Witnesses claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus when they aren't even allowed to talk to him, much less worship him?"
She wrote it down in the front leaf of her Bible. She puzzled over it a minute. I added, "Now, there is two scriptures that go along with that question. John 1:1 says, 'In the beginning...the Word was a god.' and Hebrews 1:5, 6 says that even the angels worship Jesus.
She agreed to ask. I also reminded her to read the book "Millions Now Living" if she could find it, so that from now on she would know for sure what they used to teach when people asked about it.
We parted company with a very cordial handshake and an exchange of pleasantries. If this was too long for you, you were warned in advance.