JW man: Hello, have you heard the good news…
Me: Probably. Just so you don’t waste your time, let me tell you that I used to be a devout believer and also tried to convert people. I am more than happy to have a conversation about why I am no longer, but don’t expect you to.
JW man: Oh, that’s terrible! [Pause] Why?
Me: I finally read the bible with critical thinking skills and could no longer ignore my issues with condoning genocide, slavery and eternal torture for thought crimes.
JW man: [in a tone of condescension] The Old testament had to be like that to keep the Hebrew people separate.
Me: By giving rules about how badly you were allowed to beat your slave?
JW man: They were much better than the people around them.
Me: Have you read Hammurabi’s laws?
JW man: [changing tactics to evade the question] Of course I understand why you left.
Me: Really? I would be very surprised if you did understand. I have had many believers tell me that they understand and not one of them has. They most often have made up excuses that have nothing to do with my reasons and everything to do with making them feel safe and separate so that they don’t have to worry it could happen to them. I also find it terribly insulting to have someone tell me I was never a true believer as if they knew more about me than I did. They are basically calling me a liar. You can see why I don’t appreciate that.
JW man: [pause] Well, would you let me read you a scripture?
Me: Of course! I used to think the bible had magical powers too. Just reading the word could change people. I lost count of how many times I read the bible and I memorized several books: Matthew, Luke, Acts, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Proverbs… I am terrible with verse references but start reading and lets see if I can finish it.
JW man: [puts his bible away]
JW woman: [face of horror] But dear, surely you have not abandoned the bible! There are so many beautiful things that help you be a better mother.
Me: Of course I still appreciate the beautiful things. I was surprised to learn that some of Jesus’ most beautiful teachings were part of Buddhist teachings many years before Jesus came along though.
JW woman: But Jesus was such a superior moral teacher!
Me: Except for that part about eternal punishment for thought crimes. That hardly seems compassionate or just.
JW man: Eternal punishment is never part of hell!
Me: I suppose it depends on which hell you are referring to. There are at least 4 distinct types of hells referenced in the bible.
JW man: I mean the New Testament!
Me: That does narrow it down a bit, but those ones are the most disturbing. “into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched where their worm dieth not” (Mark 9: 44)
JW man: That isn’t describing actual torture. Jesus was just giving an illustration.
Me: [blinks in disbelief] So that is how you get around that. Huh.
JW man: I won’t waste anymore of your time.
I wonder if he realized he admitted that in his rationalization, Jesus was deliberately misrepresenting hell in order to scare people into submission. So, he evaded eternal torture by calling Jesus a manipulative liar. I tend to agree.