January 01, 2008

New Year's Day

I was up very late last night. Thank you, DC Drinking Liberally and The Seminal for a lovely house party, the Metro full of quite sauced people, and the irresistable lure of catching up with the blog reading I didn't get around to yesterday. And then this morning, at the positively unkind hour of 11:30 am ET, the doorbell rang. I went downstairs to answer it because, in spite of the fact that three other people live here and I know that at least two of them were home, no one else ever seems to answer the bloody door. Gods. Dammit.

Bloody door. Which I opened on two sunnily smiling women in a perky, late middle age. We goodmorninged each other. The speaker was holding a much-worn copy of the exact same version of the Bible that I'd seen in my parents' hands many times, and once had carried around a lot myself. She took in the bathrobe and the wozzy expression. My dignity was only saved by the fact that my hair is literally too short to be messy. The conversation went something like this:

"Did we wake you?"

"It's New Year's Day. I was up late last night." Before caffeine, the obvious is the height of my conversational skill. It's been alleged that it sometimes improves afterwards.

"Well, I won't take up much of your time, let me just leave you ..." And naturally, she's reaching into the handbag for The Literature, mentally backing away from the Bible verse she'd been preparing to read to anyone willing to listen.

"You're a Jehovah's Witness?" I ask, fully certain of the answer.


"Because I used to be, and I'm not any more." I'm actually, in order to be properly polite, supposed to tell Witnesses this fact should I run into any. Also, it forestalls the extraction, presentation and inevitable refusal dance over The Literature.

"Oh. Well, since you were before, would you like us to mark that down so we don't come back?"

"Yes, thank you. It's not a good use of your time. Have a good year."

I thought, well, you can't go home again, but you can't entirely get away from where you started, either. Which is perhaps not terrible. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that it might have been the very most helpful thing I could have woken up to this morning, under the circumstances. Got me thinking, anyway.

Here they are, two unfamous women with almost zero political power*, going around making the coldest sort of cold calls at whichever houses turned up on the walking list (territory card, actually, but you get the idea) in the certain knowledge that their message will be roundly rejected by virtually everyone they talk to. They will get up and do it again whenever their next day off is. If either of them were to find even one person in the coming year who would listen to them and volunteer for further rounds of discussion, they'd be happy.

Because it's really hard to sell people new religions. Especially when they make it challenging to have a normal life.

They keep trying, though. They've sent missionaries to just about every country, and you can find them, or word of them, practically anywhere on the planet. There are Witnesses in totalitarian countries where their faith is outlawed, quietly spreading their message under the radar of repressive governments. Before the USSR fell, there were Witnesses there; always at risk of jail for telling other people anything about what they believed, yet compelled by their faith to try and do so.

Though not imprudently. It took me a long time to realize why those female aid workers in Afghanistan, the ones who were imprisoned by the Taliban for evangelizing before the war along with a few dozen of the hungry people they'd been both feeding and preaching to, had annoyed me so much instead of inspiring my sympathy. I finally figured that it was because I assumed that had they been Witnesses, they would have been far more careful and not have endangered the lives of so many Afghanis through sloppy, willy-nilly yammering to all and sundry.

Not even American Witnesses are like that, with some of them going into the equivalent of deep cover for years in foreign countries to provide reinforcement for local efforts and tie them together with the worldwide congregation. Have you ever heard of a Witness pulling a stunt that got dozens of orphan street kids and/or their widowed moms jailed alongside them for flouting a country's proselytization laws? You have not. Witnesses don't assume, ever, that any government is going to be merciful when that government has made it plain that jail or execution is the penalty for their religious activities, or that any other government will extend its might to save them or the people they talk to. Their faith is in God, not in governments, and so their attitude towards governments is one of pragmatic circumspection.

I sort of digress, but perhaps not entirely. Because where I was going with this is that these are some very determined people who refuse to be daunted by the enormity of their task: trying to preach to everyone living. The improbability of their personally having much effect due to the usual human state of insignificance isn't enough to stop them. The threat of jail or execution doesn't make them fall apart, it just makes them evaluate their approach more carefully and come up with new tactics for reaching their goals.

This is a cultural tradition with some positive lessons that I've kept in mind as I read Adam Siegel's challenge to imagine life differently and work towards it, even though the ecological facts as we know them are alarming. Or Joe Brewer's reminder that the thing we need to change most is our perception of the world, which is difficult to be sure, but inarguably within our power to do. Or buhdydharma's point that it's going to take a lot of people to fix things; and if you're wondering if the effort needs you, I'd simply suggest that unless our planetary emergency has been fixed already, then there aren't enough and so yes, it does.

Naomi Klein gave a speech this year, "Is Another World Possible?", that I've quoted in many contexts because it's widely applicable across the progressive movement:

... The real problem, I want to argue today, is confidence, our confidence, the confidence of people who gather at events like this under the banner of building another world, a kinder more sustainable world. I think we lack the strength of our convictions, the guts to back up our ideas with enough muscle to scare our elites. We are missing movement power. That’s what we’re missing. “The best lacked all convictions,” Yeats wrote, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Think about it. Do you want to tackle climate change as much as Dick Cheney wants Kazakhstan’s oil? Do you? Do you want universal healthcare as much as Paris Hilton wants to be the next new face of Estee Lauder? If not, why not? What is wrong with us? Where is our passionate intensity? ...

And to that sentiment, this year, I'll add this: Am I as willing to tackle climate change as the Witnesses are to knock on strangers' doors and face rejection hundreds of times every year? The answer had better be yes, because it's going to be that hard, or harder.

* Jehovah's Witnesses neither vote nor lobby. Nor do they participate in any sort of political or warmaking activity. Political neutrality and nonviolence are central to their beliefs. In Nazi Germany, they went to the camps rather than join political organizations or the military. In the US, they've also been jailed for conscientious objection to military draft. The one contribution to political discourse they've made that's likely to affect any of us will go largely unattributed, and that is the precedent set by a number of court cases where members of the denomination sued for, and won, greater protections for their (and, as it works out, everyone else's) exercise of free speech.

Posted by natasha at January 1, 2008 01:15 PM | Random Mumblings | Technorati links |

-=Sheikh Essa involved in Bhutto killing=-

Posted by: ccoaler at January 1, 2008 04:44 PM

Jehovah’s Witnesses and freedom of speech.
Who are Jehovah's Witnesses?

They will extol and preach "God's Kingdom" and this sounds attractive,what they hide from you is their Watchtower sect version that Jesus has already had his second coming in 1914 and is working "invisibly" through them.
They have won 37 of their 46 U.S. Supreme Court cases, assuring us all of freedom of speech and assembly and equal protection under the law.

The sad irony is that the Watchtower Society *daily* abuses the human rights of thousands of its members. It denies current members the right of free speech by forbidding them to speak to former members, even close family members.

And it denies former members their right of freedom of worship by refusing to allow them to leave the religion with dignity, should they come to disagree with Watchtower's practices or doctrines.
The 'religion' of Jehovah's Witnesses is a dangerous cult that controls every aspect of its members' lives.

Are they knocking on your door?
Danny Haszard http://www.freeminds.org

Posted by: Danny Haszard at January 2, 2008 01:32 AM

Jehovah's Witnesses beliefs:
A) They are at your door to recruit you for enslavement to their watchtower corporation,they will say that "we are just here to share a message from the Bible" this is deception right off.

B) The 'message' is their false Gospel that Jesus is ruling in heaven already since 1914.The problem with this is it's not just a cute fairy tale,Jesus warned of the false prophets who would claim "..look he is here in the wilderness,or see here he is at the temple"

C) Their anti-blood transfusion ban has killed hundreds if not thousands

D) once they recruit you they will "love bomb" you in cult fashion to also recruit your family & friends or cut them off. There are many more dangers,Jehovah's Witnesses got a bad rap for good and valid reasons.

99% of the world has rejected the teachings of the Watchtower Jehovah’s Witnesses, the darker truth is they are a destructive and oppressive organization.
Danny Haszard Jehovah's Witness X 33 years

Posted by: Danny Haszard at January 2, 2008 01:34 AM

If you would like more REAL and accurate info about Jehovah's Witnesses on the web be sure to check out the official web site at www.Watchtower.org

Posted by: Watchtower.org at January 2, 2008 03:42 AM

oil reaches 100$

Posted by: ccoaler at January 2, 2008 11:15 AM

wow, this feels like watching a food fight.

seriously, though; if we may fail, let us fail in such a way that people will tell each other we should have succeeded.

Posted by: Huskarl at January 2, 2008 05:04 PM

Looks like *somebody* has GoogleAlerts on hair trigger. Good grief.

This is a completely pointless site on which to have an argument about the merits of the JW faith. Seriously. The regular readers aren't the sort of people who are looking for a religion like that, where the apolitical thing is a sure deal breaker, and if they're religiously inclined they've probably already found one they like. Information junkies and whatnot, you know, one can expect that they've looked into the matter. And I'm not interested in making my family's religion out to be evil. It doesn't do it for me, but some people really dig it.

This isn't my fight anymore, and I'm bored of being angry that my childhood wasn't what it might have been. No one else's was, either. There was good, there was bad, but nothing too bad on balance, and still my friends tell me that I turned out all right. (Though they *would* say that, wouldn't they?) I wasn't abused as a child. My family loved, fed, housed and clothed me. My mom taught me to read and behave politely in public. My family's church, for all that I've had to unlearn, taught me to stand up for what I believe in even if the whole world stands against me. It could have been worse.

If I reminisce about it, be assured that it isn't because a discussion of their dogma on merits is remotely interesting to me, so y'all go rumble someplace the heck else.

Posted by: natasha at January 3, 2008 11:41 PM