Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wandering in the Wilderness

Being one of those people who are annoyed by door-to-door sales people and wandering religious missionaries in particular, I had placed a “No Soliciting” sign right above my door bell some time back. So then what do the unwanted visitors do? They knock on the door! Explaining the sign to sales people is fruitless; they plead ignorance regarding what “soliciting” is. Religious solicitors don’t believe what they are doing is “soliciting” either – after all, they are on a Higher Mission.

Back then I was very abrupt with visiting religious proselytizers; but not so today. While working on my documentary about magician and inventor, Jerry Andrus, I adopted his approach with missionaries. Jerry was a vocal Agnostic but a very sweet and engaging personality. He would invite visiting missionaries into his home and engage them in debate. Jerry had studied the bible thoroughly and often knew more about the book than the iterate evangelists. Neither, I am sure, believed they were going to change any minds, but Jerry at least hoped they would leave with some alternate concept to consider.

Shortly after moving into our new home, a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door; I welcomed them filled with joyful spirit and rapture.

Had I heard about the testament of Jesus Christ, they inquired? I had indeed, was my enthusiastic response; in fact I had been motivated to make all manner of study of the Christian beliefs to such a thorough extent at which I became convinced that there is no such thing as god(s).

The gentleman’s hand froze as he was about to pull a copy of “The Watchtower” from his valise. But surely, the woman missionary interjected, I believed the bible was the “word of god”? “Which bible”, I asked? There are dozens of versions. Clearly none were penned directly by the “almighty” but were rather inspired in the minds of mortal men. I further explained that the people of Jesus’ time spoke Aramaic but the earliest fragments of bible copies (as we have no original) were written in Greek. Surely she didn’t think that Jesus walked around in his time uttering “thee” and “thou”… that is Olde English.

I explained to the woman that, unlike the Bible, the Book of Mormon is claimed to be a “first-hand” account written by a known author, Joseph Smith. I inquired of them both if they thought the Book of Mormon to be a true testament of god? They strongly declined. I suggested that it certainly is easy to make up wonderful and fanciful stories, offering them as “evidence”. But I also reassured them that I didn’t believe that books written about Robin Hood and King Arthur were evidence that those characters were real as well.

By this time the gentleman had tucked his “Watchtower” pamphlet back into his valise; he clearly was not wanting to waste his booklet on the likes of me. As they attempted to back away I explained why I thought the concept of Heaven to be a silly idea and how boring it must be there for people such as me with such creative consciousness to have to spend eternity praising the glory of the lord. By the time I had launched into the findings in Stephen Hawking's new book explaining about Dark Matter and Dark Energy and pre-universe conditions, I clearly had lost them.

I wished them a hearty “Thank you for stopping by”, and sent them on their way with a smile and a friendly wave.

Now I have an inkling of what it must feel like to be filled with the rapture of the Holy Spirit.

Note: After this and a second encounter with Mormon missionaries, I decided to prepare my own pamphlet to hand out in future encounters. You can download a copy of my non-theist pamphlet from my web site. It is not copyrighted so feel free to adapt it for your own use.

34 comments:

Rain said...

I like that pamphlet.I have also tried to talk to such people and find it just goes nowhere and so have given up on it. Something to hand out would be an alternative but not likely more effective. I am beginning to feel the same way about trying to communicate with politically far righties. We live in two different universes and never the twain can really communicate. If others have had better luck with it, I'd be interested in hearing about it. For me it's beginning to seem like a waste of time to try. Maybe I need a booklet for that too ;)

alwaysinthebackrow said...

We rarely have anyone come to our door, as we are on a dead end road and have a long driveway. They have to evaluate whether it is really worth the energy.
I don't waste my time if they do knock at the door-the dog goes nuts and says it all for me. Woof!

Robert the Skeptic said...

Rain Whether it's religious, political or any frame of mind, it is extremely difficult to change someone's mind. It has been demonstrated that FACTS, rather than change someone's perspective, actually have the opposite effect; entrenching the person more deeply into their original belif.

The best one can do is occasionally toss out something for them to think about... roll around in the back of their mind. Do this a number of times and "some" people will begin to think about it.

BackRow There's nothing like the barking on the other side of the door to discourage would-be solicitors... of any stripe.

Jon said...

In one of Vonnegut's books (Breakfast of Champions, I think) a younger sibling offers a Witness a regular comic book in trade for one of their religious "comics". Last time they came to my door my wife pulled up her shirt to flash me (a new bra!). The Witness must have seen her because he hurried back down the steps and we haven't seen any of them since. Moments like that almost make me think there IS a god!

crnelius said...

Religious creatures dismiss any contradictory evidence making discussions futile... I gave up long ago. To me the best evidence for being an Atheist comes from a realization of the known universe. When you realize how inconceivably small, almost impossibly tiny the entire solar system is, let alone the human creatures on the 3rd rock from the center Star, all religious dogma is washed away as insignificant drivel. To quote the late, great, Bill Hicks, "...we are a virus with shoes." ... and nothing more. For me, that's where the argument ends.

Infidel753 said...

Try a "Do not disturb" sign. They won't be able to claim it's ambiguous. If that doesn't work, try one of those pits with a trapdoor on top and a starving tiger at the bottom.

Good pamphlet. We should print out a few and leave them in various public places. You never know. It's true that you usually can't change people's minds by arguing with them, but you can plant a few useful seeds of doubt which may flower later.

Antares Cryptos said...

I'm completely distracted by Jon's comment. :)

Over 4000 religions on this planet...good thing they're not all showing up at your door.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Jon That event with the bra, that's practically a "sitcom moment". Too funny!

Crnelius "Virus with shoes", I like that analogy. Indeed, most people have a difficult time conceptualizing just how extensive the known universe is and how relatively infinitesimal our presence in it is.

Infidel Well that is how I lost my religion, a little bit at a time. The difference between people like us and those who do not question is "inquiring minds want to know".

Cryptos Yes, I'm still pondering that image as well.

You say 4,000! That is even more than I would have guessed. I suspect that 3,900 of them were conceived and started in the USA.

DJan said...

I will go look at the pamphlet after writing a comment. It will be entertaining, I have NO doubt. :-)

Nance said...

I LOVE IT THAT YOU DID THIS!!! I've done a pale version of this, but you've given me courage and inspired me to let my little light shine. I fear, however, that my last attempt at counter-proselytizing may have worked well enough; I just realized that no one has stopped by in years and we have a JW meeting house less than a mile away. Rats. Can I come over and practice on yours? Better yet, maybe I could get hold of a JW mailing list...buy one on line or something.

Robert the Skeptic said...

DJan Hope you find it interesting as well.

Nance Yeah we should get a list of JWs in the town and stop by THEIR houses when they least expect it. Payback... yeah!!

billy pilgrim said...

i think rapists, pedophiles,murderers etc are reincarnated as jehovah's witnesses as punishment.

it's a tough racket recruiting for jehovah.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Billy Oh I don't think that is true. I think they are nice people overall... deluded, but nice.

Snowbrush said...

Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are pikers. It's the damn Kirby salesmen who will literally lie to get into your house, and then not leave until you're on your way to the phone to call the cops. The first two groups can even be mildly entertaining, as you so skillfully pointed out.

Scott said...

Well said sir!

Robert the Skeptic said...

Snowbrush I haven't seen the Kirby Vacuum salesman in years! Mostly I get kids wanting to paint the house, sell windows, mow lawns, that sort of service. My mom bought a Kirby from a salesman. That thing was built like a tank!

Scott Thank you.

TechnoBabe said...

This is great. I forwarded this post to my hubby. I am offended when people knock on my door, thus intruding on my turf, for the purpose of teaching me about their religion and/or doing their duty to save my soul. I am thrilled for them that they have found a truth to believe in. I think they should be thrilled for me that I have the same thing for me.

Cognitive Dissenter said...

You should record the next visit and post it on your site for our entertainment. I would make popcorn.

I know of an ex-Mormon woman who had such a problem with persistent (and rather obnoxious in this case) missionaries, she finally had no choice but to turn the hose on them. Classic.

billy pilgrim said...

yes, they are nice in this life but in past lives they must have been rotters.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Techno Any unexpected intrusion - I am usually busy with something and I don't want to be interrupted by something or someone I have no inclination whatsoever to induluge.

Dissenter Wow, turning the hose on them??!! sort of a "reverse baptism", I guess.

Billy Past lives?? Now don't start going all Depak Chopra on me!

Paul said...

Those Mormons come prepared Robert so look out ...:-)

Robert the Skeptic said...

Paul It is true that the LDS does "coach" their missionaries, mostly to deal with criticisms of their religion. So ask them were Smith's gold plates are, they have a stock answer. The ones who have come to my door, however, were completely unaware of what an Agnostic was. Ask them what you do in heaven and you get a very nebulous answer as well: "learn about god" was one answer.

THAT form of indoctrination, teaching dogma over teaching Critical Thinking, is what dooms most religious beliefs.

Wow, that was awkward said...

You are awesome. Quite the handful too. I should rethink how I handle solicitors. I don't think I know enough to debate on religion, but maybe I'll just try to mix them up with double talk and nonsensical things to waste their time since they are wasting mine.

KleinsteMotte said...

Religion organizations were used to set up a system of education for the not so elite. Still we went through an era of dark ages. Then a shift came. A revolution. Since then science has brought about many changes but letting go of past institutions that are bred into culture will require more revolutions. For now we tolerate. A better system has not yet emerged.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Awkward You really don't need to debate them, that is why I now give out my pamphlet. I think it is possible to give them something different to think about without being mean or rude. Rudeness just drives people away and accomplishes nothing.

KleinsteMotte I much of the civilized world, religion has lost ground as people have become more informed and educated. This country apparently is the exception. Actually I shouldn't say that, the numbers of non-theists in this country has been steadily increasing.

Paul said...

Question Robert : Why is Mormonism growing by leaps amd bounds ?

Robert the Skeptic said...

Paul Mormonism is indeed on the increase, though it's rate of increase has significantly slowed in the 21st century. One could likely attribute their growth to the encouragement of having large families and their world-wide missionary presence. However by some counts Islam is still the fastest growing religion which is up there with Deism which is a belief in a god but no formal religious affiliation. And, of course, non-theists (atheism) number third under all Christianity lumped together followed by Islam as number 2.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Paul I forgot to include in my previous comment a plug for the blog of one of my followers, Cognitive Dissenter whose blog examines Mormonism from the perspective of a ex-Mormon. Excellent blog!

Paul said...

Thanks Robert ! Hat tip !!

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

Wow. I am a believer, but if I wasn't, this would be a great way to, um, discourage the Jehovah's Witnesses! ;)

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dawn The pamphlet gives people something to think about, which really is all I'm asking.

secret agent woman said...

I'm skeptical that you can convince someone who is zealous enough to be a missionary to even stop and think about it. But you keep trying. Me, I'm going to continue to refuse to answer the door. :-)

Robert the Skeptic said...

SecretAgent These missionaries feel they have a need to try to change my mind - if it's good enough for me, it's good enough for them. And who knows, I might just plant a seed of doubt in their minds. It's just as hopeful a goal as theirs!

Anonymous said...

You explaining to them about not believing in heaven made me laugh.
JW's don't believe they go to heaven when they die.
They believe god will fix the earth and people live forever on it with good health.
They believe when they die there is nothing, no pain, no boredom and they are resurrected at some point to rejoin their loved ones here on earth.
Maybe if you had stopped talking and listened for one minute you might have learned something that day.
CG