Debating Jehovah’s Witnesses
If you haven’t this should help you should you ever have to go through that experience. If you have then you’ll most likely agree completely with what I’m about to say:
Debating with Jehovah’s Witnesses can be one of the most difficult things a person can do. The reason is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are very well trained by the Watchtower to make you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about. They also have the unique ability to “jump around” the argument.
I remember one time that I wrote to the Watchtower (while in the group) about the validity of their belief that Christ was hung on a torture stake instead of a cross. I brought the Greek words used for “Cross” or “Stake” in the bible. There are really two that are used. One is “xylon” meaning “wood” and the other is “stauros” meaning an “upright pole”. My question to them was this: The Romans were famous for crucifixion. Yet there is not one historical account of them using a standard pole. The Jews’ standard method of execution was stoning. Since the Romans were charged with putting Jesus to death then the context would indicate that they would use their own methods to do so. Why would the Romans make an exception and hang Jesus on a stake instead of their standard crucifix that they are famous for? The words for pole or wood merely describe the materials being used and this begs the question: “Is there anything about these words that would exclude a cross being used?”
Their reply was interesting as it pertains to circular thinking:
“Regardless of whether a cross or a stake was used the fact is that the adoration of that instrument would be idolatry and therefore condemned by the scriptures. In any event the significance of this was Christ Jesus’ sacrifice and not the instrument of his execution.”
They failed to address any part of my argument (ignoring it) and then changed tracks stating that reverence for the cross was idolatry. I was quite exasperated at this point because they all but ignored my points and tried to make the “you say tomato and I say tomato” argument.
Here is the standard Jehovah’s Witness protocol for anyone they are debating with:
- Attack the argument. If that fails…
- Attack the proof. If that fails…
- Find some way to show that the proof is somehow connected with something obviously bad like false religion typically a reference to a non-christian historical belief system like that of ancient Babylon. They are very good at finding historical data that would cast a shadow on any custom, belief or concept that they don’t necessarily like; for example, the cross is really a method of the worship of Tammuz. (Obviously that has absolutely nothing to do with the question of whether or not Christ was crucified!) If that fails…
- Attack the messenger personally by either reputation, personal belief, level of education or if he or she is a former JW they use the fact that they are an apostate to try to negate the argument. If that fails…
- Change the subject. If that fails…
- Leave and never come back.
This is the usual process that they engage in if you ever “stump” one of Jehovah’s Witnesses:
They will immediately become very uncomfortable. They will sweat, their heart rate will increase. They will become agitated. They may become physically ill. They will try to spit out scripture after scripture regardless of context to somehow bring a preponderance of scriptural evidence against your valid argument. This condition where two conflicting beliefs are at battle in the subject’s mind is called cognitive dissonance. Understand that you’re dealing with sometimes decades of systematic programming inflicted by the Watchtower literature as well as five hours of meetings per week. You’re dealing with an entire cultural shift from the norm and this is extremely difficult to change in the mind of the adherent regardless of your skill as a debater! However, just as in my case, there are those certain special people in the organization that are truly honest and sincere and really want to help others. It is those people who are the most likely to give you a full hearing.
They’ll say that they will write the society or ask the elders to give an explanation and they’ll let you know what they say. (This usually never happens.) Also if by chance they do actually ask the elders for clarification the elders usually will offer no real assistance but will rather run them through the “touchstones” or proofs of their faith. They may also question them as to who they are talking to about that specific subject.
They may imply that the person they are debating with may be using apostate literature or worse may even be apostate themselves and that they should consider ceasing communication with that person! (Quick tip: If you actually have the gall to write the society directly about one of these “touchy” questions, know that a copy of your letter to them along with their response will be sent to your body of elders for review and possible action if they think you may be in danger of apostasy! Another quick tip: If Jehovah’s Witnesses think that you’re an apostate your home will be blacklisted and the witnesses will not call on you anymore. If you never want JW’s to come to your door then the next time they come to your door simply tell them that you want to study the book Crisis of Conscience by Raymond Franz with them first and they’ll never come back to your home…ever.)
They will run through a series of “proofs” or touchstones to reaffirm their faith that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only true religion. I’ve seen this done many times. They’ll run the loop that
- They are the only Christian religion that refuses to take up arms against others.
- They don’t celebrate pagan holidays.
- They are the only religion that refuses blood transfusions.
- They are the only religion that requires that everyone go “door to door” preaching the good news of the kingdom.
This type of reasoning gives them a psychological ”anchor” and regardless of what arguments are thrown at them they always go back to these core concepts as a means of reaffirming their position and faith. This has been programmed into them so that any logical and reasonable argument, regardless of how powerful it is, will rarely if ever convince them to question the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society on any point. They would rather “wait on Jehovah” (basically that is Watchtower double speak meaning “Sit down and shut up and wait for us to tell you what to believe.”) rather than to take a position that disagrees with or challenges the views of the elders or the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society.
They’ll try to attack your credentials or lack thereof. They will try to “shoot the messenger” rather than give any credence to the message.
They’ll simply ignore the argument completely and go on about their day. (This is the road that most take because they aren’t interested in learning any real truth. They are only interested in teaching you their version and gaining a convert “for Jehovah”.)
I guess my Jehovah’s Witness ego was the thing that really got me free of much of the Watchtower’s influence when I was “fencing” with my old nemesis Jerry Hunsinger. I was extremely cocky as I stated in previous posts and so I was open to taking his challenges head on.
One thing that helped me early on to accurately assess an argument wasn’t the Watchtower teachings. It was my involvement in chess as a hobby. I became very good at chess in high school gaining many titles and championships. My parents strongly discouraged chess as a “war game” and even one of the circuit overseers warned me about playing the game.
What chess taught me was how to make my arguments and to assess a position using critical thinking. It is because of my involvement in playing chess that instead of avoiding challenges to my faith, I looked forward to them as a means to grow in my knowledge and capability in defending “the truth”. I really believed that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were “the truth” period. I had never questioned it. However the real message of the gospels finally sunk in and critical thinking replaced the circular thinking that had been programmed into my mind for most of my life.
The rest is history!