Is it wrong to be polite to Jehovah's Witnesses?
I answered the door to two of them -- a mother and son, I think -- in my dressing-gown this morning, in the hope that they might be delivering my Doctor Who: New Beginnings DVD boxed set. (They weren't, but it's a tactic they might want to consider in future.) They were a little nonplussed by my déshabille, but launched gamely into their spiel before I cut them off, politely, and told them, politely, that I wasn't really able to discuss the Lord Jesus with them right now.
The thing is, I'm not a particularly tolerant person, where intrusions into my privacy are concerned. I have no difficulty being rude to cold-callers who phone up trying to sell me double glazing or new kitchens: they took the job, they're being paid for it (badly, but that's a matter between them and their employer), and they knew full well that my being bloody rude to them was a risk they were accepting along with the position. Also, they're bastards.
I can't bring myself to take that attitude with J.W.s. I doubt my beliefs have more in common with theirs than perhaps a third of the Nicene Creed, I think they show some worryingly cultish tendencies and they most certainly get the christian community (of which they're fairly marginal members) a bad name. But still, I can't help looking at it from their point of view.
As far as they're concerned, their calling from door to door is a desperate attempt to save their neighbours from eternal damnation. Out of sheer charitable love for people who they've never met, and are very likely to tell them to fuck off, they brave rejection, insult and physical violence on a regular basis as a working-out of their faith. That faith isn't mine, and I can't see any way it ever could be. But if I was in their position, I very much doubt I'd have that degree of commitment or moral courage.
Oddly, this isn't a respect I extend to evangelical "missions", Alpha Course organisers, or people who stand in the street shouting through megaphones that I'm going to Hell. They can fuck off, with their bullying rhetoric, their unchallengeable certainties and their smug middle-class haircuts.
The J.W.s, though, I can't help respecting even while I think they're deluded fools.
So... should I continue to be polite to them, and to tell them (as I did today) that although I don't want to talk to them I do appreciate their kindness? Or should I tell them to fuck off, on the grounds that this will discourage them from intruding into people's lives, risking their own safety and bringing religious people (slightly further) into disrepute?
...Actually, I think I know the answer to that. In most cases it wouldn't discourage them at all -- it would just confirm them in their belief that the world is fundamentally corrupt and deaf to their preaching of the truth.
It's difficult to know how you can affect a mindset like that, short of engaging them in actual argument. And sadly that's something I haven't the time or energy -- or commitment, or moral courage -- to do.