(This section is a work in progress so please check back for more updates. If there are any typos it’s because my wife hasn’t proofread it yet.)
My first advice to any talking to one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is to lower your expectations. From personal experience with talking/preaching to people about the “errors” of their faith, albeit from the other side of the conversation, is that it can’t be done in a quick 5 minute conversation at your door. I call this ‘twitter faith’ or ‘sound bite debating’ and it does not work for several reasons. First off, if the situation is reversed, you know that there is nothing that a JW could say to you in a quick conversation that would convert you. So why would it be different for them? Remember that their beliefs are deeply held and are completely valid in their minds. Everything they tell you will be backed by Scriptures that they believe fit their theology. Plus they are more likely to be more skilled with the Bible than you are – I’m sorry it’s just the truth. Take the subject of the Trinity for instance. How many scriptures can you muster of the top of your head that defends that belief? One or two on the spot? Most of the time people fall back on just “well it’s in the Bible I just don’t know the verses”. On the other hand, when I was a practicing JW, I could have rattled off over a dozen or more verses to you that defended my anti-trinitarian theology. Besides even if you are very knowledgeable about the Bible and could go toe to toe with a JW it wouldn’t make any difference in the world to them. They would leave your doorstep just as fully convinced of their beliefs as before. Probably shaking his head thinking you were totally blind as he went off to the next door.
Debates DON’T work. Ever. Think back at any political debate you’ve seen on TV. Have you ever seen this unfold:
Politician #1: (makes eloquent defense of a specific policy and point out the error of his opponent’s position)
Politician #2: “You know, I never thought of that before. That’s a great point. I completely agree with you. I will have to re-think my position on that issue”
This has literally NEVER happened. Debates are not productive because they aren’t designed to really persuade, even though we believe they are. They are really only designed to ‘preach to the choir’ and strengthen the beliefs of those that already agree with you. Debates about religion have even a less chance than political debates because it’s something that reaches down to the very core of a person.
Another reason why tactics like this don’t work is because of the ability to interpret any verse in the Bible to fit your ideas. Two people could be reading and reasoning on the same verse and come out on two completely different sides of it, all based on the theology you were indoctrinated in. So your ‘slam dunk’ argument and bible verse that proves your point beyond a doubt to you, can mean nothing to a JW because their explanation for that same verse make perfect sense to them.
Studies have shown that because of ‘cognitive dissonance’ in people, when they are shown contradictory evidence for a cherished belief or viewpoint, they will actually become an even stronger advocate for their mistaken views rather than accept that they may be wrong. So you great argument can actually have the reverse effect that you intended it to.
Many books out their dealing with reasoning with people in a high-control group such as Jehovah’s Witnesses will give many lines of reasoning to use about different topics and scriptures and have you put a lot of energy and effort into ‘defeating’ your opponent in the faith. Even to the point of saying to such ones that “Your being lied too by your organization”, or “You are apart of a false religion”. Look, I won’t be so arrogant to say that such tactics never work. I’m sure there is some example somewhere where it has. All I can say is that it would never work on me or the majority of JWs. It doesn’t foster respect for the other person and his beliefs and is not conducive to real heartfelt conversion.
So what to we do to try to help others. Let me use an illustration. Imagine you knocked on your neighbor’s door one morning. When he opens it you are met with him and his young child by his side. The site of them and their surroundings almost makes you cry, because they are living in such abject poverty that they are very sickly looking because of lack of good food. Now let’s say you observe that your neighbor has a loaf of the most disgustingly moldy bread you have ever seen. He is about to feed his young child that food. You are overwhelmed at that prospect and can’t let that happen. So you reach out and slap the moldy bread out of the father’s hand and knock it to the ground. You think you just did this man and his child a service, but you are more likely to leave his door with a black eye. You see, to you that’s just unfit and deplorable food. But to this father, that’s the ONLY food he has in which to feed his child with. It is precious to him. How dare you try to take that from him. Now let’s try the situation again. Your neighbor opens the door and you are once again are confronted with the moldy bread. This time though, instead of taking his food away from him and his child, you offer him a fresh, just-out-of-the-oven loaf of bread for him and his child. Which situation has the better chance of you succeeding in helping your neighbor? The point is obvious. The best path is not trying to take someone’s wrong beliefs from them, but to offer them something superior.