This is an open correspondence with one of Jehova’s witnesses. I received a hand written letter from her one Friday and immediately dropped everything I was doing to write her back. Although my own subscription to atheism would normally make me appear cynical toward the idea, and I couldn’t not ask some absurd questions (see the part about meeting personally), I wanted to keep it respectful – after all, this was not her attacking me and my belief system. My hope is that she takes my response with the same personal respect that every openly religious person demands for themselves. It’s been just over ten days and I’ve not received a response but, beyond all other hopes, I really hope to get one soon. I do feel bad for her with respect to one part of my letter back to her, as she seems to have now become involved in the cultural cross-fire over sexism – how could you not really? The end of sexist history has its best platform yet: social media, and through this we’re finally seeing courageous women get the chances to act, be, and work that they’ve so rarely had before. But, all the same, it would be irresponsible to not touch on such a topic that the Judeo-Christian culture has monopolized and reigned over.
Dear Andrew Wright,
I’m one of your neighbors and also one of Jehova’s Witnesses. I’m writing you this letter because I can’t contact you personally.
The future looks bleak to people. How do you view the future? Can world leaders bring about a brighter future?
The enclosed tract will give you a foregleam into the future. If you have an opinion or any questions, you can contact me at the above address or contact us at jw.org. I hope to hear from you soon!
Dear Miss B——-,
I want to thank you for reaching out to me – a handwritten letter is so rare to come by these days. To say the least it was refreshing to receive a sincere and respectable letter. I, however, must type mine out because my handwriting is so awful that I would fear that even if you were able to discern most of it, the tone and meaning would suffer. My handwriting gets worse the more coffee I drink, as well, but the pace of my writing hits only a certain apex after so much coffee; I’m damned to find the middle ground every day unfortunately. So I have spared you that battle. I do have many questions and I thank you for offering me the chance to ask and hopefully find answers.
I want to begin with the second paragraph where you ask me (which the pamphlet you’ve sent echoed) “How do you view the future?” after stating the future “looks bleak.” I personally view the future with an unparalleled excitement – I certainly do not view the past with the same excitement, which just seems all too sad to me. You conclude the paragraph with a follow-up: “can world leaders bring about a brighter future?” So few world leaders affect my day-to-day that I don’t know if this question necessarily belongs in this paragraph, but it did get me thinking. I couldn’t help but notice the date of your letter was May 31st of this year, and I didn’t receive it until June 6th of the same year. The address you mailed this from (which doesn’t appear to be your residence but a church’s address) is not 2.5 miles from me; I remember one day in kindergarten we were tasked with writing a letter to our parents and then walked half a mile, as a class, to the nearest mailbox – which was roughly a mile from my parent’s house – and my mom received the letter later that day. That was a few decades ago but I would happen to agree that things have become worse – I fear if I wait any longer to write and send this letter that it may never get to you, possibly falling into some human-delivery-event-horizon if you will. I can’t help but feel that this has been the only way world leaders have truly affected my life but I will explore this again later, because I still have many other questions.
May I address your first paragraph now? You open the paragraph addressing yourself correctly, that takes courage – I cannot tell you how many times Christians, Jehova’s Witnesses, the ascetic, etc. have addressed themselves improperly to me, almost for my sake. Although it starts well, I’m quickly filled with dread by your second proposition – you can’t contact me personally? Why can’t you contact me personally? Are you under house arrest? Are you trapped in this church? Will something happen if you visit me? Can you visit me in some other impersonal way? Am I getting catfished? I will continue on assuming that even if you’re being held beyond your control or are catfishing me, then you’re still acting on sincerity. We can tackle those details in a later correspondence.
The pamphlet you enclosed was very helpful, but may I offer a suggestion? It should be longer! I understand there are economic constraints to deal with here, but there is clearly more to be said. I am immediately confronted with a question at the top, and before I’m able to answer, I’m asked another question – this time multiple choice; however rhetorical it turns out to be, I felt like I was about to enter into a debate (or at the very least a polemic) on if our world will “stay the same”, “get worse”, or, in fact, “get better.” I was disappointed to find two giant, white faces smiling as though posed for a Sears portrait, an Asian girl watering a plant, and one construction worker taking up the majority of the surface area. I didn’t even get to entertain my own answers to the questions on the front! But I read on.
The first headline I came across stated “What the Bible Says” and was followed with a much edited excerpt from Revelation 21:3-4. I looked this up in my Bible to find what was removed. I was startled to find that my Bible and the quote from this Bible were very different in the wording – am I using the wrong Bible? Should I get a new one? I currently have the English Standard Version and I see the pamphlet quotes from the New World Translation – is the ESV Bible from Old English? Because, if not, then shouldn’t the New World and ESV be the same? What is it that was translated for the better in the New World Translation? Does it cost about the same? I bought mine online so maybe that was my first mistake without being able to see and read it first. But why is this cited so poorly? Why does it not just quote Rev. 21:4 which is the whole quote in this pamphlet? This Revelation hasn’t happened yet has it? It’s written in future tense but then is peppered with past tense – is it going to happen or is it happening again or did I miss it in this lifetime like Haley’s comet? Revelation 21:5 intrigues me and leaves me curious as to why this part wasn’t quoted in the pamphlet – it’s about God making all new things and beckoning that this all be written down; did he not know everything before that was already being recorded? Why must it be written down? None of the rest of this is so prefaced.
The first part of this pamphlet is not so easy for criticism obviously, so it’s ok if my questions above are not so easily answered – time, money, and space constraints considered. The bottom of the same page offered hope for those already feeling lost since the reading the front – with the headline, “What That Can Mean for You”, there followed three bullet points with relevant citations. I found this part very helpful but I still have many questions.
The second bullet point stated that this will mean for me “no more sickness or suffering of any kind” citing Isaiah 25:8; 33:24. Isaiah 25:8 and Revelation 21:3 are very similar – did you know that God is said to have done the same thing twice? Why didn’t He make all the new things back in Isaiah 25:8 as he does in 21:5? Why wait so long? As for Isaiah 33:24 – are people really sick because of iniquity? I’m currently healthy except for the drainage I have every morning due to blocked sinuses ever since the weather changed for the better – am I iniquitous? Who are the healthy and who are the iniquitous?
The third bullet point stated that this will mean for me “a happy, unending life with family and friends” citing Psalms 37:11, 29. These sections noted that we will get land but Revelation seems to be solely about unending life in a new paradise – where will I be living? And with everyone? Do I get to choose which friends and family? Will my parents have a computer wherever it is that we are living? I try to leave my parents’ house as soon as I “fix” their email problems – will there be technical resources on hand for them or will I have to continue this unrequited role?
The first bullet point stated that this will mean for me “meaningful and satisfying work” citing Isaiah 65:21-23. Would you agree that we are solely defined by the work we do here? Can we break out of this definition? I hope so, and I feel like the rest of this book argues for something more than that. I also fear that we become identified by only what we do – we can never be “who we are” until we do – is that true? If so (and even if the contrary is true) has the unsatisfying work already defined us decadently? Will one who aspires to do more be defined by the lowly work they start with or the better work they finish with? Don’t those who work satisfied and unsatisfied strive for retirement? Does this make retirement a sin or is it just a sin to ourselves? I guess until I understand the value of my work and not wanting to work any longer I can take solace in not having to bear children “for calamity.” Although Isaiah 65:22 in my Bible says “…my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands,” the Hebrew translation means “shall wear out” – I fear the emphatic difference between long enjoying the work of my hands and wearing my hands out. Am I only satisfied or defined when my hands are worn out?
Can the three of these bullet points be taken together to mean unending work for me? Will my hands no longer be worn? I am very excited to go home after the usual nine hours and I love my job and what I do there.
The second page had a column titled “Can We Really Believe What the Bible Says?” Once again, it doesn’t seem that I’m allowed to answer the question. It does give two reasons why the answer is yes – would it be possible to get more? It says “for at least two reasons” so there must be more sections I can read on why this is such an unequivocal answer. The first reason provided was that God can fulfill promises and Matthew 19:26 was cited which ends with “…but with God all things are possible.” This unfortunately reminds me of Dostoevsky’s quote from The Brothers Karamazov, “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.” Does Matthew 19:26 have the same nihilistic undertones? The reason I feel the tones are similar between this Russian Fatalism (written by a Christian) and the Bible, and thus could mean God would use this unlimited power for evil (instead of what is promised), was found shortly down the page under the second reason for why I can believe what the Bible says, where John 14:9 is cited after the heading “God has the desire to fulfill the promise.” The pamphlet stated that “Jesus perfectly reflected his Father’s personality…;” John 14:9 doesn’t say anything about “personality” but this may simply be an issue of translation (maybe the New World Translation addresses this) – why does God have a personality? Does that not make him scarily human? Does that not mean “everything is permitted” instead of “all is possible?” I hope not.
The back of the pamphlet suffered the most from stringiness. Before getting into requesting my personal information to then give me more information at zero cost, there was a section on meditation in the meantime titled “To Think About” followed with a question: “How will God change our world for the better?” The answers apparently lie in Matthew 6:9-10 and Daniel 2:44; however, nothing is quoted nor paraphrased, so I took it upon myself to read these sections instead of assuming those answers are there and probably pretty good.
Matthew 6:9-10 is only part of the Lord’s Prayer – why such a small part and not the whole thing? Matthew 6:1-15 makes more sense, even though there are overt socialistic implications here (and throughout much of the sequel/New Testament). I do wonder though, why must I pray so secretively? 6:5-6 says I should pray in a locked room, which I think anybody would be happy to do, but it makes me curious as to why so many congregate to pray now? Or is this something the New World Translation and the denomination of being a Jehova’s Witness addresses? Does this also have to do with why you can’t contact me personally? Are more people needed to be more respectful of this secrecy?
Daniel 2:44 – is this about Heaven or the Earth? Which is it that I’m inheriting? I mean, first and foremost I should state that I am not meek, like at all – nor are any of my friends. But if this is also something I no longer have to worry about, I feel obligated to confess that I once inherited two frogs and could only care for them for a little over a fortnight before they began to turn peaked and more float-y than swim-y. Luckily someone else was on hand to take them from me and give them a better life. Is whatever I inherit something I will have to tend to – regardless of how worn my hands are?
I hope my questions aren’t too numerous and I hope that you can address some of them but I do have more that go outside this pamphlet. I keep hearing about this war on religion – should I be concerned about this? Do I need to take a side? The actual “war” on religion, if it can be called that, began (if I have my timeline correct) roughly at the end of the 18th century and continued strongly throughout the 19th century. How is the war coming along? Is anyone winning? I know that religion has made a strong comeback since the late 19th century and more and more individual cases of the irreligious come up, but only as individuals – do people actually think there is a war on religion let alone one that religion is losing? Does “all is possible,” all being permitted, mean that religion must have all? Does it consume or simply possess? I happen to understand the significance of religion and could never wish it away, but is it worth proclaiming a war that does not even exist? Won’t this be alienating for anyone and everyone? Is that permitted?
Also, why so unfair to women? The whole book seems to be against women – in a collection full of subjects, she is object. Why? I can’t help but notice that although there are stories of courage, this is not a book about courage. The very opposite, in fact. You seem to be courageous though – where did it come from? What is it that men are supposed to fear? What is it that men are supposed to fear with respect to this book? Is it women? It appears to be women. Have you, personally, seen what courageous women are doing these days? Oh boy. Some of them are even getting killed for being as such. Is that not the most incredibly nauseating thing you’ve ever heard? The damnedest thing is that it doesn’t take much for men to be courageous – they’re all so afraid of everything these days! Yet inspiring women are coming out of every corner it seems. Because I’m a fan of the softer, more invasive arts, I recommend some easier reads, listens, indulgences than what one can find in the Women’s Studies and Political and Current Affairs sections of bookstores – mostly for the sake of easing into the cold water on that first daybreak: have you read Patricia Lockwood’s Rape Joke? Or Jen Kirkman’s I Can Barely Take Care of Myself? Or listened to Sara Bareilles’ Brave Enough? Or Fiona Apple’s When the pawn…? Evidence of strong women is everywhere in the most influential mediums like television, music, movies, literature without having to delve into the classics. Saving the world the work of having to read or, even, do, it’s best to offer a passive means to understand strength as not necessarily a “masculine” feature: watch what Elizabeth Meriwether, Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Amy Schumer, Jessi Klein, Kay Cannon, Chelsea Peretti and Paula Pell have done for the contemporary sitcoms and the future of the variety show. If it’s not enough to appreciate the writing and producing, then I offer recommendations of watching the following in something, anything: Casey Wilson, Michaela Watkins, Rashida Jones, Cecily Strong, Amy Poehler, Jenny Slate, or Sasheer Zamata. If this is still too much work, Twitter offers a fantastic means of sampling inspiration, might I recommend following: Andrea Savage, Vanessa Bayer, Nikki Glaser, Megan Amram, April Richardson, Hannah Hart, Grace Helbig, Jen Kirkman, Arden Myrin, Kristen Schaal, Morgan Murphy, Aisha Tyler, or Julieanne Smolinski. If the theme is laid on too thick, I want to make it evident as to why: comedy used to be (and is still accepted as) a man’s game only. There are certain prejudices about women who are funny or intelligent that strips them of their womanhood – my challenge to those who see the world in such light is to find those prejudices among this collection of artists.
This is where my point should hopefully be its most prominent – I apologize, usually a thesis is stated much earlier. I identify physically and sexually (I hope I did not make you blush) as a man but find more women to be inspiring these days than men – it’s not something sought out either, I happen to miss being inspired to play men’s basketball, I put on weight in the winter. Perhaps the most inspiring people I have observed are those that have endured an upbringing based on a literal reading of the Bible – at the top of the list is my wife, who was born unto a generation no longer meant to feel the shame and subjugation perpetuated by sections like Matthew 5:32, Timothy 2:11-12, Ephesians 5:1-33, and Deuteronomy 22:13-30. Women are born predisposed to a state of subordination that comes with the weight of years of culturally inclusive subjugating, socially, and objectifying, in comfort, which is only carefully being washed away. Yet those before us whose courage was still arrested in development taught us to have the courage to be us – this is our hope, our not-so-bleak future. Saying yes to life and doing yes (as taught to us by Nietzsche) was embraced through a hashtag; I implore you and all others to see what #YesAllWomen and #YesAllPeople has done for public discourse. The future is bright for those with courage.
I understand the conflict any of this might birth, after all because Nietzsche, too, said some awful things about women I should rightfully find little substance in the culture he promotes; however, to Nietzsche this was not a central theme, nor was it of the same resentment perpetuated in the Bible and other religious texts. This is analogous to the work of Ayn Rand. She put her faith in true capitalism which was her real area of effort, all other subsequent conclusions (i.e. sociologically without regard for her own psychology, emotionally without regard for her own history) were born from resentment and became thematic to her, institutional even. If only she left these errors alone instead of constantly incorporating them. Readers of Nietzsche today don’t take to his sexism (unless they’re seeking that out, which would make them a very specific type of scholar) because it can be resolved, rationalized even. A couple years ago, two of my friends were married in a Lutheran church (I don’t know which translation of the Bible they use though) and were required to attend counseling sessions before so the pastor could decide on whether he would marry them or not. One of the first maxims he taught them was that the man does (and always so) come first; the man’s job is the important one of the household; the man’s role is to keep the family together and without that role the family no longer exists. This type of cultural sexism predates the Bible, undoubtedly, and much like certain people, from a certain generation, one could excuse it for not knowing any better; but maybe because these teachings and this culture are so strongly persistent in the Bible they still persist in our culture today.
Please do not take any of this as disrespectful; I could not intend it anymore diametrically opposite than this (I do apologize for you having gotten in the crossfire of this). Perhaps you do not have all these answers or even want to begin trying to answer them, but just maybe you are also as curious as I am about them.
At my most sincerest,
P.S. – I would not want to leave you without some further reading suggestions that may act as good supplemental reading to the Bible along with the above: The Rebel by Albert Camus, Letters from the Earth by Mark Twain, Remembering Che: My life with Che Guevara by Aleida March, This is Water by David Foster Wallace, and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.