After the disappointing bore-fest that my Bible-reading project has proven to be, I was looking forward to going back to enjoyable literature. (And to that effect I have this morning started re-reading Robin Hobb’s Assassin trilogy. Ahh, bliss!) Unfortunately I appear to have a streak of masochism I wasn’t aware of.
I purposely chose a fairly inoffensive title for this post, since I don’t want to go out of my way to offend people, nor do I want to attract any more Bible-bashers than I have already. (Hi guys! Have you actually started reading my posts yet, or do you still just go ‘ooh, she tagged Bible, she must be a fellow God-follower!’ and hit ‘like’?)
I mentioned this briefly before, but generally around once a week there are a couple of Jehova’s Witnesses standing on the pavement between my bus stop and the entrance to where I work. They don’t really do anything; they just stand there, smiling and proffering an array of JW leaflets and literature. (Please note that from now on I will consistently abbreviate them to JW to save myself a fuckton of unnecessary typing.) As the religious missionary zeal of JWs goes, that’s about the most inoffensive way to do it. It certainly is much less annoying than the ones who turn up on your doorstep asking you loaded questions like ‘wouldn’t it be great if everyone in the world could live in peace?’ (To which the answer is ‘yes, but I still don’t want to talk to you about God’.)
Anyway, for weeks on end I passed them with barely a second glance. Barely, because one of their booklets kept piquing my curiosity: it was entitled ‘What does the Bible really teach?’ and given how my own Bible readings hadn’t really given me an answer beyond ‘It truly takes faith to believe in this bullshit’, I was curious to see what the JWs think.
And boy, has it turned out to be fascinating. Much more fascinating than the Bible itself. I always viewed the JWs as a slightly weird branch of Christianity with the same kind of minor deviations you get between the various protestant branches.
Not so. I’m a little at a loss as to how to sum up the whole thing, really. It is a baffling mixture of sincerity and complete batshit crazy which ultimately results in what (on the face of it) looks like a peaceful, inoffensive religion. I say on the face of it, because I cannot possibly form an opinion on the JW faith as a whole on the basis of one booklet, and I have no desire whatsoever to dig any deeper because of the aforementioned flashes of batshit crazy.
I cannot recall any other publication which has triggered such a range of (often opposing) feelings and thoughts, and at times I found myself wishing for a highlighter just to outline passages I found especially weird or infuriating. I have four and a half pages of notes on a booklet of 222 pages, but I was often simply unable to accurately put my thoughts into words, or there’d be much, much more. I’m even cultivating a strange desire to read the booklet again and compile a list of questions to ask of the next JWs to turn up on my doorstep. This is ultimately a futile desire, because I don’t really want to hear their answers – I just want to point out that their reasoning often makes no rational sense whatsoever.
Let’s start at the beginning. On the very first page, the books tells you to ask yourself:
- Is this what God purposed for me and for the rest of mankind?
- Where can I find help to cope with my problems?
- Is there any hope that we will ever see peace on the earth?
It then asserts that ‘The Bible provides satisfying answers to these questions.’
And there my hackles went up immediately. I’m not even convinced the Bible provides answers, but they certainly aren’t satisfying.
The next two pages contain a range of pictures, illustrating the various changes that God will bring about on the earth, so this is a good point to mention the illustrations. They are mostly drawings rather than photos, and they have the uniformity that suggests they are all by the same artist. I cannot verify this, because the artist is not credited. Frankly, I can understand why, because I wouldn’t want my name attached to these drawings. They are often downright creepy.
I guess the intention was to show the reader how happy the people are who follow the true faith, but all the endless rictus grins really just freak me out. One of the quotes says: “All those in the memorial tombs will … come out.” This is accompanied by this picture:
My friend and colleague, upon seeing this, remarked, “Yes, I imagine that’s how I’d look when the walking dead started coming out of their graves.”
So, the booklet asserts us that we can find answers to these questions by studying the bible, and that if you read three to five chapters a day, you can read the whole Bible in a year. This, at least, is true – as I’ve proven over the past eight months.
All this, and I’ve not even hit chapter one yet! So let’s move on. Chapter one is entitled ‘what is the truth about God?‘ and tackles other important questions such as:
- What is the purpose of life? (My answer: to perpetuate itself – nothing more, nothing less. The fact that we as people try to make out that there’s more than that is just a result of our overcomplicated brains.)
- Is this life all there is? (My answer: yep, thankfully.)
- What is God really like? (My answer: a complete arsehole.)
I should note that I only found the answer to the third question in the Bible, and I cannot really comment as to whether it is a satisfying answer.
Next on they start arguing semantics. ‘Is God uncaring and hardhearted?’ – No, because the Bible proves that he is never the cause of any suffering, he only allows it to happen. Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, if you’re an all-powerful being, then allowing might as well be the same as causing, so you don’t get to use that as a cop-out. They also say that as ‘our wise and powerful Creator‘ he doesn’t have to explain himself (cop-out!), but out of the goodness of his heart he does so anyway. But we won’t find out more until chapter 11.
Then we come to this sentence, which to me more or less sums up the whole problem with both the Bible and this booklet:
‘Furthermore, God is holy, (Isaiah 6:3) This means that he is pure and clean. There is no trace of badness in him. So we can trust him completely.’
Aside from the unverified explanation of what being ‘holy’ means, this only works if you believe that every single word in the Bible is the God-given truth. (And guess what? I don’t!) Which leads us nicely to chapter two, which is entitled ‘The Bible – a book from God’. In this chapter the JWs try to sell the Bible as ‘an exciting gift from God’ which was ‘inspired of God’ in much the same way that a businessman might dictate a letter to his secretary. This is the actual analogy they make.
They then proceed to call the Bible ‘harmonious and accurate‘, which actually made me snigger. Apparently the Bible was written over a 1600-year period, by people from many walks of life, but despite that it is harmonious from beginning to end. And if people say that certain parts contradict other parts, that’s not true and you should read another JW publication to disprove those claims. I guess there was no space to do so here, so I won’t get a reply to my ‘but what about circumcision, which is constantly quoted as a sign of man’s pact with God in the OT, but is dismissed in the NT by Paul as totally unimportant?’ (This would be on my list of questions to ask!)
The next thing made me laugh out loud: ‘the Bible is scientifically accurate‘. And as proof they quote ‘ancient laws on quarantine and hygiene when surrounding nations knew nothing about such matters’ (and where’s your proof of that?), the fact that the Bible refers to the earth as a circle or sphere and the part in Job that says the earth is ‘suspended upon nothing‘. Flimsy evidence, but of course ‘the Bible is not a science textbook‘! No shit, Sherlock. Still, please reconcile the scientific description of a crocodile with the one in that very same book of Job, because I’m having difficulty.
And then the best claim of all: ‘the Bible is historically accurate and reliable‘. It includes ‘not only the names but also the ancestry of individuals‘. As an example they mention the ‘detailed ancestral line of Jesus set out in Luke 3‘. Never mind that that ancestral line differs vastly from the one set out in Matthew, and that it’s the ancestral line of Joseph, not Jesus. And elsewhere in this booklet they emphatically state that no man had a part in Maria’s conception of Jesus, which means that Joseph had sweet fuck all to do with Jesus’ birth, never mind his ancestry. (Another couple on my list of questions to ask!)
Christ, I’ve nearly got 1500 words here and I’ve barely even touched on chapter two. This could prove to be way more than the two posts I thought it might be, but there’s just too much bullshit and crazy in this booklet to not cover it all.
Tune in next week for more baffling JW assertions.