Saturday, 13 April 2013

Mostly harmless

About thirty years ago, there was a knock at the door; I opened it to find a guy I’d known at school standing there.

However, it soon emerged that he wasn’t making a nostalgia call, but had appeared on my doorstep as a representative of the local chapter of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He’d seen me out and about and decided to pay me a kind of semi-official visit. 

He didn't have much gossip about our schooldays though. I didn't have any at all, so we had a rather desultory chat about this and that and after a while off he went. I never saw him again.

Where we live now also seems to have its local Jehovah’s Witnesses chapter because we get regular visits. These days they come in pairs, but maybe that’s been the case for a while - I don’t know.

There was a time when this kind of uninvited proselytising niggled me, although as far as I remember I’ve never been particularly rude to these doorstep Witnesses. I’m still short with them, but somehow I no longer mind their giving it a go on behalf of their faith.

I almost find them reassuring, standing there so politely as they do. Because they are polite and seem quite happy to go away at the slightest hint of disinterest. It isn’t necessary to be rude because they are in the immortal words of Douglas Adams – mostly harmless.

Would I like doorstep proselytising to stop – to be made illegal?

Definitely not.  I don’t see a problem if there is no hint of menace, which with Jehovah’s Witnesses there certainly is not. So I wouldn’t like to see it disappear.

Anyhow I rather like a bit of proselytising. We all do if we are honest, but we prefer words such as debate, argument or blogging, especially if we are pushing some favoured non-religious conviction. That’s okay you see. Is it preaching or proselytising to push one’s point of view if it is assuredly correct or safely secular?

Of course it is – we just use different words.

What are advertising, politics and even expressing a point of view if not a kind of preaching or proselytising? Why make a distinction? Why not admit that we all do it because it is a necessary aspect of free societies?

I understand people being miffed by doorstep Witnesses because it is certainly intrusive. But they just go away quietly if you aren’t interested, so where’s the harm? It seems to me that if we condemn Jehovah’s Witnesses for proselytising, there is some danger of condemning points of view or philosophies in general. 

Even worse, there is a danger that we’ll see our own preaching or proselytising as something else. Yet an enormous part of blogging is mere proselytising. So even making the distinction becomes a form of linguistic or behavioural proselytising.

I’m not proselytising but you are.

Yet this post is proselytising – on behalf of proselytising.


Macheath said...

But they just go away quietly if you aren’t interested...

My grandfather, a Christian Scientist who knew large parts of the Bible by heart, looked forward to visits from Jehovah's Witnesses; it was not unusual for family members to come home and find a pair of JWs perched uncomfortably on the edge of the sofa with their fourth cup of tea and saying "We really must go..." while Grandfather begged them to continue debating the finer points of Ecclesiastes.

To his great disappointment, after a few years, they started giving the house a wide berth and could occasionally be seen scuttling furtively past the cottage windows on their way to the village.

He taught his children and grandchildren the importance of accurate language, objectivity and politeness in debate; I suspect I have him to thank for both my lasting aversion to politics (and politicians) and my enjoyment of well-constructed blog posts.

Of course, it's one of those irregular verbs:

I am expressing a valid viewpoint
You are trying to persuade
He is proselytising
They are trying to dictate to us and we are not going to put up with it!

Sam Vega said...

I also like, in a mild way, the idea that someone cares sufficiently about my well-being that they should think me worth proselytising to. People praying for me, sending me their best wishes, hoping that I do the right thing according to their lights - it is all beneficial. Long may they do it.

Demetrius said...

My Dad would ask them if they wouldn't mind popping down to the off license first to come back with a few quarts. They never returned.

A K Haart said...

Mac - I'm surprised it took them a few years! I like your irregular verb point.

Sam - ah but do you know how they phrase their prayers?

Demetrius - that's the kind of thing my grandfather might have done if he wasn't at the pub.

Longrider said...

Yes, they come in pairs round here, too. The last time they called we had a chat about my trailer - the chap was interested in where I got it and how much it cost. I guess he thought he might as well, as the God bit was a waste of time...

A K Haart said...

Longrider - I've never had that degree of interest. They seem keen to be off as soon as I open the door. Maybe it's the horns.