This was something I ran on our previous blog and I think it really merits a second coming, if you will.
Proselytizing is something which many Pagans feel very strongly about. Due to our lack of interest in forcing our opinions upon other people, we seem most intent upon speaking like superior asses to those who do, thereby spreading the word that Pagans are an annoying, self-satisfied bunch who won't even stop to listen.
This, I'm afraid, is coming from someone who has seen it in action many, many times. The delight resonates in every word when Pagans gather to discuss the latest Saturday morning JoHo bashing. It's as though the best kind of fun is the kind poked at mainstream religion.
Now, I've had my laughs -- same as anyone -- when Christians lay down their rules on me and I shrug them off. But to say that what a religious sect does out of eagerness to please their God should be naught but fodder in our attempts to please ourselves, is plain-out rude. And for all of you who wear the badge of "religious rebel" -- you are not knocking a mainstream religion.
Yes, they follow Jesus and yes, they have a Bible. But they are just as tossed about as any other spiritual side-line group, including Paganism. We are outcasts in similar ways: the brunt of jokes, the focus of strange and dangerous rumors, the subject of many obtuse statements by people who have never known our ways. But still they go on. Still they come and speak kindly and even take your outbursts and door-slamming kindly. In short, they may look bad to you by peddling faith, but how do you look to them? ...To everyone who sees your tantrums or hears you retell them with pride?
Speaking for myself, I didn't come to Paganism by the familiar channel, "finding my way home" nor did I "always practice it but never had a name for it". No. I, like many others, sought Paganism as one of the many spiritual "hats" I tried on over a matter of years. I began with a quest to understand what religion was for me, where was my place, at 12 and didn't find it until 16. This was no idle decision. It was a search of the soul, for the soul, and it took place in libraries and houses of worship. It was in my prayers and meditations, my world view and my view of myself.
And because of this (or possibly in conjunction with this) I learned to really love religion. Yes, it can make people do bad things or dumb things but it can also bring out something wonderful. And each religion, and all its offspring, shows a bit about the time in which it was born and the culture in which it was reared. So from this, I may despise what extremes people rush to out of faith, but I don't despise the faith itself. At one point, it was considered the height of Man's connection with eternity. It was the enlightened glimpse at the secret book of the universe, a flurry of wild scribbling on paper or impassioned dictation. It was, at that moment, greater than anything which had come before it anywhere in the world. And I just can't hate that.
To that end, I have always loved to discuss religion. Now, tread carefully here, because "discuss" is not the same thing as "debate". I don't like to argue over something as personal and insoluble as religion. But I do like to ask questions. Questions give your conversant a chance not only to feel intelligent and important, but also to really analyze their own beliefs. It was not until my beliefs were challenged that I was able to put into words what I felt about life and divinity. To open a dialog with someone of another faith is not a weakness! You are not making yourself susceptible to conversion (unless of course, you are so weak-willed as to be tossed back and forth by a little conversation). It actually strengthens your faith. And it may also do the same for the one with whom you discuss this topic.
Case in point, my many visits from Jehovah's Witnesses. I welcome them in graciously and invite them to sit at my table. I offer them coffee and treats, as I would any guest. Then I sit with them and listen. That's the key here -- listen. Give them a chance to explain their feelings. When it comes your turn, tell the truth: you are not Christian and are not interested in changing religion but you are more than happy to talk with them. See this as though they were salesmen offering some gadget you know very little about. You're not interested in buying (and you make that clear right away) but you are curious about it enough to hear the sales pitch, ask questions and read the catalog. There's no harm in that and the salesmen are willing since you might refer them to someone who would like to buy. It's win-win.
In my first experience with Jehovah's Witnesses, I wrote the following list of questions that I wanted answers to. I have since passed it on to other Pagans as well as gotten several sheets of answers from various followers themselves. I have not once "sent them running from the house" nor have I "made them terrified to even walk on my side of the street". It is shameful that any Pagan or magical practitioner should be so willing to get a bad reputation for rudeness! If anything, get a bad reputation as a spellcaster, a fearless Heathen, and a proud hedonist reveler! But rudeness -- never!
So I give you my list. Print it out, pass it around, discuss and change it as you will. But use it. Talk to people. Open up and tell them what you believe. They are not ashamed or afraid, they are not defensive or offensive. Share what you feel, allow them to ask questions. Do all in the name of knowledge. With an air of innocence and curiosity, you will strengthen your resolve, deepen your faith and learn about the wide world around you. And all without sacrificing your dignity.
Pagan Questions for a Jehovah's Witness
1. You are quite happy in your beliefs? Have you come up against those who were happy in their‘s, though they were different? Do you persist in talking to them about your‘s?
2. What would you say if spokesmen from other religions knocked on your door and told you that you were mistaken for all these years?
3. How long have you been a Jehovah’s Witness? I’ve been a witch and Pagan for 13 years. Would you not say that I know who I am by now and who my Gods are?
4. What is your rule for converting others? Why do you do it?
5. How does your God differ from the mainstream belief in the Xian God?
6. What do you do in church? How are you different from Xian church?
7. Are there things you’re not allowed to do? How about clothes, words or foods?
8. Do you ask people about their beliefs first or start with talking about yours?
9. Do you see it as actually *trying* to convert? What terminology do you use?
10. Do you have friends that are of different faiths? Do they talk to you about their beliefs?
11. Do you know much about Paganism? Would you like to *take some literature*?
12. What faith were you before you became a Jehovah’s Witness? How has your life improved since you switched?
13. Have you known anyone who’s left the Jehovah’s Witness faith? Why did they do it? What did they go to? What are they doing now? Are there rites performed for leaving? Is the person shunned?
14. What *exactly* did you Witness?
15. What is the Jehovah’s Witness stance on magic? What’s your personal belief?
16. Do you know what Paganism says about your faith? (Answer: Nothing) Would you say that’s a good policy?
17. What’s your ultimate goal as a Jehovah’s Witness? What’s the ultimate goal of the whole faith? Is there a hope that someday the world will be full of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
18. How far back does your faith system go?
19. Are there rites for children (birth, coming-of-age)? Why or why not?
20. Does your faith believe that at one time we all were Jehovah’s Witnesses, as Xians believe that we all began under their doctrine?
21. What does your belief say happens to those who don’t follow your path? What about those who leave it?
22. What do you think about other paths that convert? What is the official stance?
23. Do you think this is more about what’s right for the individual or what is universally right?
24. How long does it usually take to talk to someone in their home? How long does it take to change someone’s mind (if they are moderately willing)?
25. Have you personally brought an outsider into your religion? How many? Are they still with you?
26. What do you think about people switching religion for the *wrong* reasons? Would you accept a newcomer if it seemed they were doing it for the wrong reasons (to gain popularity, to rebel, to take advantage of what you can offer them, as a power trip)?
27.What about if someone wants to join but is insincere, like that you know they don’t really believe or that they’re still of the other faith in their heart?
28. What’s the rite for joining?
29. Do you get perks for conversions? How does it affect your stance with your God? Or the afterlife?
30. What’s your faith’s version of the afterlife?
31. I’ve heard that your belief is very much against pain. Why is that? Don’t you feel like there’s such thing as helpful pain? (ex: the pain of touching a hot stove vs. laying your hand there and rendering it useless by extensive nerve and tissue damage)
32. What’s your view on the pain of childbirth? I’ve heard Xians say that it’s a curse God gave to Eve for her disobedience. Is that true of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
33. What does your path say about women? What’s woman’s role? How are men and women told to relate to each other?
34. What’s a JW wedding like?
35. What are your rules about kids? Are they JW from birth, is there a separate rite for bringing them in, and what if they choose to leave when they get older?
36. Are JW funerals different from the norm? Can you only use certain ministers or can anyone legally officiate?
37. How are people ordained through your faith? Do you have your own system or is it through a seminary college, person to person or online/mail order?
38. What are the most common questions people ask you?
39. Do you like talking to people about their beliefs? Do you get uncomfortable talking about yours?
40. Do you believe that there will ever come a time when mankind knows who’s really right? What will happen then? What if you’re not of the “right belief”?