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Buddhists vs. Jehovah’s Witnesses: The Jihad

watchtowerQuestion:

My question pertains to how a Buddhist should deal with religious solicitation, specifically Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’ve yet to stop at my house, but other people I know have already had them come to the door and I’m trying to decide the best approach to what I feel is an awkward situation. I’d hate to be blatantly rude to them, they mean well in their own way, but I just don’t agree with the idea of ‚Äúbothering‚Äù people at home to try and peddle your religion. I feel like I should be receptive to anyone who means well, and in a perfect world I’d like to be hospitable and invite these people in to sit down- I recognize they must face a lot of very negative people during their day and my heart would want to be sympathetic and understanding, but this isn’t a perfect world, and I was brought up that you do not talk to strangers, much less invite them in your house. Is it better to be straight forward and say ‚Äúno thanks I’m content with what I’m currently doing‚Äù and risk seeming rude, or should I let them make their speech? I feel like the latter may be misleading since I really have no interest in converting, so is that lying? So‚ĶWWBD? What would Buddha do if someone knocked at his door? any thoughts you or any other reader/listening might have would be much appreciated.

Answer:

This annoys me. I know, as a Buddhist, I shouldn’t get annoyed. Let’s call it a pet peeve then.

I have to admit, in my younger days, I’d always quickly explain that, “I can’t talk right now, I’m sacrificing a goat in the basement,” and hastily close the door. Was it rude? Yes. Was it ethically wrong? I’m not so sure. Let’s look at all the factors here:

You want to invite them into your house and be hospitable to them. That’s nice. I’m sure they do meet many negative people during their travels; that’s because they are bothering people with ideas with which they disagree. If you could have a legitimate conversation with them, and explain your beliefs to them, that might be a valuable opportunity for both “sides” to learn, but it just doesn’t work that way; like any good sales professional, they know how to get around your objections.

You say they mean well; that they have your best interests at heart. That’s probably true in most cases, but here’s something that many people don’t know. Did you realize that some of these groups actually have quotas on the number of hours per month that they MUST knock on doors and proselytize? It’s a requirement of membership in the church. So don’t necessarily just assume they are doing it out of their love for you or desire to save your souls; they simply have no choice.

jehovasI think everyone should be made aware of what the major religions teach; I’d love to see Comparative Religions as a required course in high school (Yes, in all high schools). I know roughly what the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and other groups believe, and I don’t believe in it. I am aware of it, and I have made an informed decision to disagree. There is nothing in Buddhism that says you cannot listen to other groups preach their religions; they all have some good ideas. So if you are curious about them and actually want to sit through a lesson or lecture, then there’s no harm in listening. But if you are happy where you are, and already know that you aren’t going to convert, then by inviting them in, you are wasting their time as much as they are yours.

Buddhism is the FOURTH largest religion in the world, after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Why is it only number four? Generally speaking, it’s because Buddhists are more passive and do not actively proselytize and evangelize looking for converts. There are very few “Buddhist Missionaries” out there. It’s better that people make the decision to follow the Buddha’s Path on their own. Forcing them to do it, or annoying them into giving in to it, isn’t the Buddhist way.

So no, I think closing the door on them and getting them to move on in the fastest possible way is going to be less frustrating for you as well as less time-wasting for them, reducing suffering for all. Choose your battles wisely, this is one you won’t be able to win.

Am I being overly harsh here? I don’t know, maybe. As I said earlier, it’s one of my big pet peeves. And, as always, feel free to comment in the section below if you agree, disagree, or want to share your own experience on this.

26 comments to Buddhists vs. Jehovah’s Witnesses: The Jihad

  • Here’s a first response from my email. A reader wrote:

    Yes Jehovah Witnesses have a set number of hours that they need to go out and “witness” to others but it is a choice, they do not have to do it. On that note though, it is highly recommended by the elders.

    The best way to handle them when they come to the door is just to tell them you are happy in what you are practicing, you do understand what they need to do and could they please take your address off their list at the Kingdom Hall. Once you request to be taken of their list they will and will not come to you again.

    The answerer is correct in they know how to get around whatever you say. There is no “normal” discussion. In their mind they are right and they need to tell everyone how right they are to be “saved.” They will not listen to reason, they will turn it around and quote a scripture whether in context or out. I know my MIL is a Witness and I studied with them until I found out that you definitely cannot judge a book by it’s cover.

  • Jon

    I used to be bothered by the solicitations. That was before I started my practice, which is also when I truly began feeling comfortable in my own spiritual skin. I’ll let them know that I’ve found what works for me (after a long search), offer them some water for their journey through the neighborhood and also an opportunity to sit in our garden which is right outside the front door to rest before they move on. So far, since I started this, no group has taken me up on the offers.

  • Kimi

    I appreciate both of these responses and would suggest that is the way to go. It is a waste of their time and a “real” exchange of ideas is not possible. We all need to recognize a wall when we see it and go around. A polite but clear response with an offer of water is compassionate! I didn’t know I could ask to be removed from their list I will definitely add that to my, “no thank you would you like a glass of water?”.

  • Gambatte

    The UK has a 0.3% buddhist population and only 0.1% in my own location. I’m approx 1 mile from the East Pennine Assembly Hall of the Jehovahs….
    I generally will engage with them after letting them know I’m a Buddhist. They’re more used to dealing with atheists, agnostics and those of other Christian denominations and they obviously have training to follow scripts (like other door to door sales) The use of leading questions is a dead giveaway.
    Its quite amusing to see them struggling with their lack of knowledge:
    “You worship Buddha, don’t you?”
    “You believe Buddha was a God?”
    2 of the first that come to mind 🙂

  • Judy

    My mother used the ask any door to door religions the following – “Are you happy with your faith?” They would always answer yes. The she would say, “Then I hope you will respect that I am happy with mine.” and she would smile and say good bye.

  • darren

    it’s a rather interesting point this one.
    where we live we have a kingdom hall at the back of our house.
    every sunday you can find them knocking on doors around here over the years i just ignored it.
    then when i started on my path i thought one day i’ll answer the door to them.
    i started the conversation by saying jehovahs witnesses or mormons.
    they of course answered jehovahs witness and they asked me what i was.
    i think when i said i am a practising Buddhist it threw them a bit.
    they then asked me about my religion for about ten minutes and did seem interested.
    i on the other hand asked questions about there religion which i think threw them again.
    The Buddha taught us that we must have tolerance for all living beings as they maybe a Buddha in disguise.
    they were very nice and wished me well and left me with some literature i wished them well on their path and sent them blessings.
    they have not bothered me since but here is a little secret from a gentleman i used to work with some years ago who was a jehovahs witness.
    they have a little black book if when they call they see you as a possible convert your address is given round for them to call again.
    if they see you as someone who would not convert your name goes down in their books and you won’t get bothered again.
    seems i’m in the little black book.
    just treat people how you would want to be treated if your faith is strong what have you to fear but your own insecurity.

    Blessings

    Darren

  • Holly O.

    I’m so very grateful of this posting. I have had people come to my house before and my responses to them have always left me remorseful and filled with guilt. I usually get angry that they are coming to my house and trying to impose their beliefs. If I do not open the door, I feel much better than when I do. I want to be a person that can be patient and have the time to explain my beliefs. However, I now know that giving explanations can alot of times open up a discussion or argument. As you have stated so wisely, to avoid suffering is to avoid these frustrating arguments. Although this may not be the best option for all, this is the one I will happily embrace and practice.

  • Steve

    When I see who it is, I (politely) immediately tell them, “No thanks, and tell your people not to stop here again.” I don’t accept their literature and I close the door. That seems to last for 8 or 10 years, when another one will come by. I tell them, “My last instructions to your people were to not call again. Please tell them again. Goodbye.”

    Seems to work.

  • Alicia

    Hello all, I was the original question asker for this topic and I wanted to thank everyone for their thoughts. I’m glad to know I’m not the only person concerned with the best way to handle these sorts of situations. I’m trying very hard to make positive changes in the way I deal with “difficult” people…which is enormously hard to do some days. Thanks for all the valuable insight!
    PS: when I do get that inevitable knock on the door, I’ll be sure to share my experience. ^_^

  • Stingra'

    Here’s an idea, already alluded to by some above…..Tell them you would be willing to listen to their words on their beliefs if they would be willing to listen to your words on your beliefs. Make it a condition. It might be fun to compare some key points of their thoughts and yours…..all ‘religions’ have similarities. It could be a good exercise for you in your own faith. Just don’t be upset at how they may argue against your faith. Their possible negativity could be a nice chance for you to practice patience and compassion.

  • Linnea

    The last time a couple of Witnesses they came by, I was on my way out. When I answered the door in my coat with my car keys in hand, they left. I didn’t know I could ask them to “take me off their call list,” as it were.

    I’ve always politely declined their invitations and they’ve left. The only aggressive ones I came across were a couple of teens who started trying to convert my then-seven-year-old son while he manned a booth in front of a bookstore, selling popcorn with the Cub Scouts. That made me angry, and I’m afraid the protective mother in me expressed that anger. I complained to bookstore management, who told me they’d been having problems with that lately and were going to call the nearest Kingdom Hall to remind them of the shopping center’s “no soliciting” policy.

  • Jerry

    I have a related question: what’s a reasonable response to a greeting of “god bless you”? I’ve had ministers say that to me a few times and I’m pretty much at a loss on how to respond. I’ve just said thanks in the past, but that seems a bit dishonest. On the other hand, I recognize that it’s a greeting and not the opening salvo in a debate on religious doctrine.

  • Re “God bless you”:

    Lots of people say that around these parts, not just ministers. Like you, I usually just say “thank you” and move on. I think it’s more of a statement of well-wishing than a real blessing in modern times, so I think it’s just one of those things that is probably safe to live with. Another case of choosing your battles.

    By the way, in times past, demons were able to enter you when you lost control while sneezing. Therefore, the phrase was literally a defensive blessing. Demons today aren’t so sneaky I guess.

  • Maybe put a sign on your gate saying no religious solicitations.

  • Shanti

    I have to agree that the solicitations can be somewhat annoying. I have a sister-in-law who constantly threatens “hell” upon the family. She is very verbal about our family needing to find god and to go to church and usually throws out that we are going to hell. I am more saddened to see her suffering and this is where I need some advice. Most of the time I sit and listen, sometimes I get up and walk away. I do send her blessings of compassion. Can anyone give me advice?

  • Don

    Everyone likes to feel a belonging in the world we live in. I find Thanking them for their time and telling them that I’m fine is a nice way to get them from the door. Doesn’t hurt me or them.

  • Carl

    I agree with Brian’s response. Thank them and send them on their way is the best thing for both parties.

  • Buddha would say, “Stop by again when the rapture happens.” Isn’t that practical?

  • RK Henderson

    For what it’s worth, I was once “witnessed” by two Nicherens who came to my door one Saturday morning. (This happened in Portland, Oregon.) They were pretty much indistinguishable from Mormons or Witnesses in their dress and patter, and though perfectly friendly, they continued to witness on me even when I pointed at my altar and told them I was a Zen student.

    So it’s not just Christian cults that do this.

  • SarotaLotus

    There is a Jehovah’s Witness who proselytizes at my morning bus stop. I usually find him to be pleasant company and we have had lively conversations about the Bible (I happen to be well-schooled in it, being previously Christian. Now, like many Buddhist converts from Christianity, I view Jesus as an Enlightened One). I also share with him Buddhist teachings and views that reflect on the topics he chooses. Just for fun, I try to identify commonalities (of which there are more than one might think!). At first he was a little irritated with that, but now he laughs.

  • I discuss the TRINITY with JW who don’t believe in it, thinking it’s Pagan. I explain that Buddhism has the Three Refuges that correspond with God the Father (equating God’s Truth with Buddhist Wisdom), Christ the Son (fulfilling the Dharma or Divine Law of Justice incarnated as Jesus), and the Holy Spirit (healing and harmony among the people or Mother Church or Sangha). So the trinity under divine laws in the Bible given by Moses, and under natural laws given by Buddha and by Constitutional systems of Judicial/Legislative/Executive, these are BOTH fulfilled in Christ Jesus which is the spirit of Restorative Justice. So share the trinity with them, and they usually have a tract on that topic since they object to it.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder about the person how anwsers this question, if your reaction of bias lies leaves you to react in the same manor as all other people, then how has buddahs teachings changed you if it is not visible for your fellow man?

  • A JW once showed me that che Chinese symbol for ship is made up of 3 other symbols. They are 8, vessel, people or mouth, chich coincidentally is Noah’s Ark, Noah and his wife and his three sons Ham, Shem, and Japheth and their three wives. If Noah’s ark is true then all people people would have come from Noah’s family. Their story is hidden in the language of the chinese. Here’s the link fo rthe character, it’s not by JWs but it shows what I was told by the JW I was talking to. http://bibleprobe.com/chinese.htm

  • I have read all of the comments, and ask one question the philosophy of Zen and other things are Ideas of men, they were also utilized by the Samurai of Japan and other violent Martial Arts, the final stage of enlightenment is nothing. I deas are great, and yet many religions have had ideas, Hitler, KKK, Reverand Jim Jones, ETC. The reason Jehovahs Witnesses come to peoples doors is because this world has put a price tag on your Head, what ever you make is what your worth, 50,000 a year and so on, once your broke, your worth zero. Jehovahs Witnesses believe that there is no price tag on your head that you are worth more then cars, gold, diamonds, money. Your life is worth everything. This is why they knock on your door. Whether or not you believe them or not, isnt it good to know a group of people in this world still believe we are worth more then material things, and they don’t just talk they show it. I guess there wrong in there believeing that peoples lives, are worth more then the mere things mentioned, and that war, violence are better ways to express how we feel about each other. I wish we lived in a world were ideas were acted out with true sincerity, at least they practise what they preach.. everyone is entitled to freewill, and yet how we have used that will is a shame to our humanity, and a group of people preaching peace, love, and unity, without going to war and committing violence, must be crazy since they live by it. I never see Jehovahs Witnesses strapping Bombs to themselves, or killing each other or others in war. Whens the last time you got robbed by one of them.. Crazy that a group of people telling people to live by a standard that they claim they want, when they say lets do it, oh there crazy, finatics, there trying to stop us from committing violence, Adultery, Murder, Lieing, Stealing how dare they… Whos Ideas are not sound the ones claiming to want peace but wont do it, or the ones living by it???? I’ll take Peace.. I hope you guys have it, or find it..

  • Greetings my fellow Buddhist, I have a very unique understand of the Jehovah Witnesses because I was one for many years, raised one. Anyways, I must agree that there is no way to have a normal conversation with them. There are exceptions to this rule, but those individuals are usually very fearful and it would take many conversations, possibly many years. I like some of your ideas how to deal with them when they come to my home. Have any of you been approached on the street or in businesses? They also do a lot of what they call “informal” witnessing.

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