Church #3 Kingdom Hall in Bethelhem

Date: 1/15/12

Church: Kingdom Hall Bethlehem

Pastor: Unsure if they call the leader(s) pastor(s), the two speakers were referred to as Brother Matice and Brother Derek Doherty

Time Spent: 10am-12noon

Overall Impression: Kinda scared

Type: Jehovah’s Witnesses

Format: 30min talk about scripture, 1hr 30min study of Watchtower Literature, a hymn at the beginning, middle and end. Prayer bookended the Watchtower study.

Thoughts: I showed up and tried to take a seat. It took several minutes because people greeted me continually as I walked inside. I guess it might have been my clothing. All of the men were in suits and the women in dresses and skirts. Anyway I finally achieved a seat. A woman asked me if I knew what to expect. I said no. She told me there would be a talk and then a study with questions and answers. The first half hour seemed ok. There were references to Abraham, Adam, Jesus. The message was about Jesus needing to suffer and maintain integrity/obediance to God in order to take on sin. It was given by a speaker they mentioned was from somewhere local (Brother Matice). Then things got- different. I was given a copy of the watchtower lesson and the entire group went through it led by another speaker (Brother Doherty). It was very like an English comprehension lesson from third grade. There would be a paragraph followed by questions which we could answer to make sure we understood the lesson. Here’s how I remember third grade:

text- Tom and Jody are friends. Tom gives Jody a book for her birthday. Jody is happy to get this gift.
question- Why is Jody happy?
answer- Because Tom gave her a book for her birthday.

But I’m not in third grade today. And I don’t think my bible lessons should treat me like I am. About 50% of the answers offered were verbatim from the lesson itself, as though half the room wasn’t even interested in thinking, just spitting back answers. I also noticed the lessons were made up of verses from various parts of the bible just all strung together with no attempt made to follow the original context. I’m not really a fan of that. Taken apart and put back together you could make any book say anything:

“Last night you began to tell me strange things about my ring, Gandalf.”

“Your ring is shown to be that One Ring by the fire-writing alone,”

“But this is terrible!” cried Frodo…”What am I to do?”

“You ought to go quietly, and you ought to go soon,” said Gandalf.

“You are wise and fearless and fair Lady Galadriel,” said Frodo. “I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me.”

Then Frodo stirred and spoke with a clear voice…”I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!”

“And that’s the end of that,” said Sam.

I remember how Frodo left his home to escape those that wanted his ring, almost got tricked into giving it to Galadriel and finally decided to keep it for himself. The End.

But I digress. Even reading the bible entirely and in order people disagree about it. And these weren’t the only reasons I started to feel really weird at Kingdom Hall. Most of the lesson was about how we are to live apart from the world, which is of Satan and therefore evil. We live in the world but we are not of the world. This strikes me as a potentially dangerous idea, because it sets up a scenario of us vs. them. In my mind religion should be about reaching out to help people. This seemed more like it was closing in to stay away from people. Because they belong to the evil world…just a step away from saying, everyone else is evil. I don’t ever remember being taught that in my religious upbringing and it seems kind of pretentious.

Weirdness goes on however. Towards the end there was one more freaky thing that I was nervous to hear. The lesson explains how we are to hold ourselves away from the world if we can and not engage fully. (it’s evil remember?) Here is what it says:

Vigilant Christians refrain from using the world to the full with regard to higher education. Many people in this world consider higher education an indispensable stepping-stone to prestige and an affluent life. But we Christians live as temporary residents and pursue different goals.

So now I’m not a Christian because I went to college? Ouch. This seems wrong to me for several reasons. Education is important. Education is good! This is such a basic assumption for me I can’t even think of a way to argue why it’s good. Also, in most places it is important to have a college degree in order to get a job that’s not factory work or retail. Why is a religion telling me not to go to college?

So in the end I was rather creeped out. It may not be as bad as I think though. I don’t really know based off one Sunday how seriously all of them take it. There was the one man who told me his wife is Catholic. Either he misspoke and she used to be Catholic, or they are ok with a member being married to an outsider. And one of the leaders pointed out that the anti-college thing was really more about avoiding prestige for the sake of prestige. My gymnast friend points out that I may be in for visits to other churches that also feel the rest of the world is either wrong or evil, but it may be understated. Or not revealed to the casual visitor. I guess I’m saying I understand these are still all people and can give the benefit of the doubt. But I won’t go back into that church. One Sunday of that was plenty.

Overall Feelings: Too much for me. I’ll stay out here in the world.

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