We live “out in the country” in SE Pennsylvania. Although we are not “religious”, many people around us are. That’s fine – I respect everyone’s right to believe whatever they want to believe. Among the plethora of Christian churches in the area there is a large and prosperous-looking Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses about a mile away. These folks are known for their proselytizing and we get a visit from someone of this group at our house once or maybe twice a year. This too is fine. I also respect that these JW folks in particular are so deeply committed to what they believe that they will risk walking up cold and talking to perfect strangers about it. Not many have the guts to do that about anything.
I was sitting on my deck Sunday afternoon relaxing and basking in the warm, beautiful weather when a strange car pulled rather hesitantly into our driveway and then drove around to the front of the house. I got up to greet whoever this was and to see what they wanted because it was very unlikely to be anyone I know (I literally have no friends in this world). It turned out that it was a carload of little-old-ladies from the JW come for what amounts to their annual visit. As is my habit in these cases I listen to the spiel, smile and try to be both polite but also non-committal so as not to get their hopes up or provide any false impression of true interest. I usually accept their handouts of “The Watchtower” and “Awake”, and sometimes I even leaf through them briefly later on, but despite my college background in philosophy, I don’t engage these missionaries in existential dialectic and the whole encounter is over in about 5-minutes.
After having had these engagements regularly for about 25-years I do have an observation though. I have noticed that the sales pitch of the JW is very consistent. I am sure that they are carefully trained to do this work in exactly this way, probably because it has proven itself over time to be such a successful formula. The routine always goes something like this;
- Haven’t you ever wondered why it is that life is so awful? Whenever you turn on the TV there is nothing but war and terrorism and riots and pandemic diseases and suffering and pain and injustice. Haven’t you ever wondered why your own life is so difficult and full of hurt even when you don’t deserve it? Haven’t you ever wondered why God permits all these horrible, ugly things in the world and if maybe there might be a “Better Place”?
- There is “An Answer” to all of these fears and concerns and questions we all have that will explain everything, and there is in fact a “Better Place” that is very real and very near and it is called “The Kingdom of God”.
- If you are suffering from all of these fears and worries, then I’ve got yer “Answers” right here in The Bible and all you have to do is Believe as we do and you too can be secure in the future that God will soon visit upon us.
As I have said – I respect True Believers of any stripe but I cannot share their faith because no matter how deeply held, passion can never be accepted as a substitute for veracity. I was thinking about this latest interaction later on while thumbing through The Watchtower with its apocalyptic illustrations. Those comic-book-like pictures reminded me very much of the posters in the video-game store advertising the latest Mortal Kombat teenage shoot-em-up game – ironic, since I’m sure that the JW folks would consider those things completely evil in spite of the eerie similarities to their own publication. The only real difference is that the game is accepted by everyone as just a fantasy, but the JW folks actually believe in an authentic and imminent real-life apocalypse. Anyway, I was wondering why it was that this JW sales pitch had no appeal to me when it was apparently so compelling to so many others.
My conclusion is that I just cannot buy into the very first premise of the JW presentation. You see, I don’t believe that life is awful, at least mine certainly isn’t. I have a beautiful house, I have a great job, I have all the money and possessions that I need (if not desire), I am in good health (for someone my age) and I have had a strong and loving marriage for over 30-years. I suppose that the JW missionary could challenge me (should we ever actually enter a debate) and ask if there isn’t anything that is less-than ideal in my life. Well, I suppose that if I stretched I might find something to whine about, but the fact is that even if The Kingdom of God that they are peddling is indeed “Perfect”, I’m not sure that it would be. You see, to be truly happy we humans need things that are imperfect so that we can work to make them better. If everything were already as good as it could possibly be, then that would be terribly boring. I mean, if it weren’t for heathens like me in need of conversion, what would these poor JW missionaries do with themselves? At least I can provide them with the thrill and excitement of walking up to a stranger and Testifying to their faith in God – so, you’re welcome; glad to be of service.
I understand that there are plenty of folks out there who are suffering – many through no fault of their own. That’s too bad. Although I don’t want to be crass about it, even the suffering of others makes me appreciate just how good that I have it by comparison. Be it “luck” or the grace-of-God I am very, very thankful for my life and there is nothing of significance that I regret or that I would alter; past or present. I also know that somewhere people are in distress and that tomorrow in a moment of disaster I could well be one of them. In spite of this risk however, I find the world-at-large to be a beautiful and glorious place. The blue of the sky is wonderful, the sound of the birds and the wind in the trees is wonderful and the feel of the warm sun on my skin is wonderful. And by the way – all of these things will remain just as wonderfully beautiful as they are today even if I lose everything else that I have in some catastrophic instant tomorrow. The message of the JW (and Christianity in general) is that with faith there is “Hope for a Better Place” and for the relief of present worldly pain, but I am not in any pain. If I were to be told that the here-and-now is all that there would be for all of eternity – I’d be perfectly fine with that. I guess that this is why no religion has ever held a strong appeal to me – I am just too happy and content and I don’t have enough self-pity in me to crave “A Better Place”.