“I’m wondering, Tom, if you’ve even taken the time to read any of these ‘atheist’ books?” asked one of my interrogators. Dawkins and crew had come up in conversation.
Well....um...ah...ahem...that is to say.........(no)
Perhaps in fairness I should read one or two. Moristotle positively used to plead with me to do it. The trouble is, I’ve read atheist arguments singly, through blogs and so forth, and have not been impressed. Why think that would change were I to read them in orchestral form? I come from that point of view in the first place, or if not from that point of view, at least from the agnostic point of view. I worry these books would exasperate me, since I’d agree with much of them. By all accounts, they expose hypocrisies of religion. I’ve no problem with that. But it would be ‘been there, done that.’ Jehovah’s Witnesses were exposing hypocrisies of religion before these guys were born, and doing so when it took guts—that is, before it became trendy. But by trashing religion, these authors think they’re trashing God. How are they doing that? When it comes to fraudulent religion, the Bible foretold that development exactly:
For example: “There will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively.” (2 Peter 2:1-2)
“They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any sort.” (Titus 1:16)
Furthermore, these books keep calling me a deist. What a ridiculous word! Wait until they find out I’m a married man. Will I be then called a wifist? Besides, one can only do so much reading. My long-suffering wife, Mrs. Harley, thinks that I read too much as it is, to the detriment of nobler tasks like fixing things around the house. She accuses me of living by the motto “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it is broke, don’t fix it.” Can you imagine such an accusation?
But that opening question—about reading atheist books—was a trap! My interlocutor responded: “My question to you was actually a bit loaded, (he never asked me one that wasn’t) because the organization that you are a part of would not wanting you reading such things at all. My church, on the other hand, would encourage such reading because we know we have the truth and have nothing to fear.”
Actually, I’ve heard it put more strongly than that. From time to time, you will hear characters, even some who were once Witnesses, carrying on about how they weren’t “allowed” to read anything but what was Watchtower-published. I swear, I don’t know how grown people can make themselves such children. Who do they think is going to “not allow” you? One might hear counsel that it is well not to waste ones’ time on drivel. Is that the same as “not being allowed?” These days, cigarette packs feature the caution: “Surgeon General’s Warning: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy.” Does that mean people aren’t allowed to smoke? To make the point, I stated: “I assure you, though, that if congregation elders were to pay me a visit and the entire Dawkins-Harris-Hitchings trinity was lying on my coffee table, I would not be in trouble.” Some opposing website quoted the line, to howls of disbelief. What is it with these people?
Oh, I suppose if one of those meddlesome persons is coming around—you know, the sort who delights to put in their two cents on everything—we all know them when we see them—then you might tuck those books out of sight, unless you deliberately want to get a rise out of said persons. And you might do the same if ones whom you respect are coming around, the same way you might silence a song with smutty lyrics, out of embarrassment, mostly, as you ask yourself: “If I’m embarrassed listening to this stuff in their presence, why am I listening to it in the first place?” These are purely human factors and they have nothing to do with “getting in trouble.” Actually, I’m not likely to have those books laying around anyway, on account of 1 Tim.6:20: “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.”
To hear the grumblers carry on, you’d think persons new to the faith were bound and force-fed. Look, before persons decide to “join” Jehovah’s Witnesses, they go through a period of Bible study, seldom lasting less than a year. They weigh what they are learning. They sift and compare. They consider how it applies. By degrees, they make various changes to align their lives with the Bible. Throughout this time, they function in general society just as they always did—it’s not as though they are suspended from daily life. If that’s brainwashing, (a common accusation) then so is every other endeavor upon which people may make a stand. (One new Witness observed that, given today’s world, our brains can use a good washing.) Should they eventually become Witnesses, they may well decide thereafter to read mostly Watchtower published material, from which they learned Bible teachings in the first place. They trust the source.
In the late 1960’s a newspaper editor in Trenton, Ontario commented on Watchtower literature. “Among the interesting plethora of publications, some come regularly from the Watchtower Bible Society, better known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is an organization which, by any man’s standards, must command respect. The magazines are well written, with plenty of research, and quite apart from the special religious theories advanced, with which many may disagree, the society touches on every aspect of human life and the world God gave man. It upholds Biblical principles and inculcates in its adherents the ideas of honor and purity, good citizenship, and impeccable behavior, which a world rent by the distortions of so-called freedom would do well to read.” It’s not bad stuff, and there is no end of it.
Frankly, there is only so much time most people have for reading, and in some cases, only so much interest. So if somebody chooses to read only Watchtower publications—and we do have many people like that—what problem would I have with it? They prioritize reading material as they see fit.
Christian values are poles apart from those of the world in general. Not in shallow surface ways, but in the most basic fundamental of ways. So once you decide to diet, why stuff the fridge with ice cream and the cupboards with chips, things that will serve only to undermine your newfound determination? No, I have no problem should someone decide to read mostly JW published material. Some do. Some don’t.
What I like about the JW organization is that they’re unafraid of verses like 1 Timothy 6:20: “O Timothy, guard what is laid up in trust with you, turning away from the empty speeches that violate what is holy and from the contradictions of the falsely called “knowledge.” For making a show of such [knowledge] some have deviated from the faith.”
Everyone else embarrassedly pretends those verses don’t exist, fearful lest they be seen as narrow and restrictive, the worst of all possible sins in today’s world. Watchtower applies them, unconcerned with how the world will react, so long as they discharge their scriptural responsibility to warn against specious reasonings. They want Christians to “attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God...in order that we should no longer be babes, tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in contriving error.” (Ephesians 4:13-14) It is a stand that takes guts, that exposes them to sneering ridicule, and to absurd charges that they want to “control” people.
Yes, there is caution about what we read, what we view for entertainment, and so forth. It is GIGO: computereeze for “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” You can find such counsel in Watchtower material. But counsel is just that; it is counsel. It is advice. It is often strong advice. It is not rule, nor law, and it is not presented as though it is. Now, if you will excuse me, I have the latest issue of Reader’s Digest to plow through. But don’t tell anyone. I don’t want to get in trouble.
[Edit: December 2018:] I came across a BBC list of the 100 greatest books of all time. To my surprise, I discovered that I had read over half, far more than anyone commenting on that thread. I hadn’t actually “read” them. I had listened to most of them via Books on Tape while working as a janitor. “Stupid janitor forgot to leave an extra roll of toilet paper,” some CEO recently tweeted, adding “I’m screwed.” I tweeted back: “I read half the BBC Great Books via Books on Tape while working as a janitor. Sorry about the toilet paper.”
When my nemesis heard reports that I had read a lot, he taunted: “Which of the major atheist books do you find the most compelling?” It is a one-track-mind with these fellows. I shot back: “Which of the ancient Greek tragedies do you find the most compelling? Which of the novels of Dickens do you find the most compelling? Give me your review of War and Peace.”
Should I read one of those atheist books? Possibly so, but my desire cools with the impression that foremost among them, the author of The God Delusion, has presented himself on Twitter as one of the most unpleasant persons on the planet. See how he reviles anyone he disagrees with, giving the distinct impression that it is personal with him. Maybe he isn’t feeling well. Still, sometimes I fear that his cherished evolution is right, and that he is the foremost example of it. If so, it is curtains for humanity, for the ability to get along with others surely must be a pillar of peaceful life.
As founder, he is, for the most part, a hero of the modern atheist movement and its anti-cult subset. He becomes most unhelpful, however, when his stated view of child sexual abuse is taken into account—that except for penetrative abuse, it is overemphasized. After all, it happened to him, as it has happened to countless ones. He relates it all in his signature book. People need to get on in life, his words suggest—it’s not that big of a deal. Whether he is right or wrong about this is immaterial. Suffice it to say that his words reflect the prevalent attitude of a time period. And they throw a wrench into anti-cultist efforts to try in the courtroom abhorrent conduct of yesterday by the standards of today. (July 2006)
From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!