“Excuse me, do you live round here?” the man asked me anxiously.
“I just thought I’d warn you,” he half-whispered, pointing down the street. “The Jehovah’s Witnesses are going door to door.”
I had noticed them, of course; a huddle of six people in plain but smart clothing, the women with modest handbags and flat-soled shoes, the men in cheap, grey suits, earnestly clutching bound bibles or notebooks. Standing by the entrance to a block of flats, I had mistakenly believed them to be waiting for a bible study class, even though it was a Thursday morning. But no, they were much worse. Or so this man thought.
“All it takes is some old, defenceless person, and they’ll get them to sign anything!” he said dramatically, his eyes fixed on the innocuous group standing patiently outside the building.
I don’t really mind Jehovah’s Witnesses. No, let me rephrase that: I dislike Jehovah’s Witnesses as much as the next person. I breathe a sigh of despair whenever I open my door to see the standard pair of JWs earnestly waiting to share their deeply felt convictions with me. Not because I fear the inevitable conversation about finding Jesus, but simply because it will keep me from doing other things. I cringe and giggle in equal measure when I see them in the street, standing the regulation six feet behind the trolley bearing their multilingual copies of Watchtower, their religion’s official mouthpiece.
But in the grand scheme of things they are completely harmless. They’re not conmen or thieves. They don’t want to sell you any more than the vague promise of a blissful afterlife or rob you of anything other than your soul. And in contrast to some other religious fanatics, they don’t indulge in kidnap, murder or terrorism in a bizarre backward logic that I can only summarise as “If you don’t let me save your soul, I’ll kill you.”
Granted, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are at the annoying end of the religious spectrum, since – just like the Mormons – a part of their practice involves attempting to convince others that salvation is possible only by accepting their particular version of the Creation story and its associated belief in a time beyond death; a time we should all prepare for in this life to improve our chances of forgiveness for sins committed or merely inherited by being human.
In this sense, the Mormons are even holier than moi. Forget alcohol and drugs. The Mormons don’t even permit themselves such obviously sinful pleasures as cigarettes, coffee and tea. Yes, I know that cigarettes are bad, but coffee? Seriously? I couldn’t function in the morning without a cup or two of coffee, but it’s not exactly the gateway to Hell. And I certainly don’t recall seeing coffee-quaffers in any Hieronymus Bosch paintings or being mentioned in Dante’s ‘Inferno.’
For Mormons as with Jehovah’s Witnesses and all other proselytising zealots, my attitude is that I’m very happy they have found something that gives them solace and comfort in what can be a difficult and confusing world. It would be even better if they didn’t feel the need to inflict it on me. Or, to put it more graphically: “Religion is like a penis. It's fine to have one and it's fine to be proud of it, but please don't whip it out in public and start waving it around... and PLEASE don't try to shove it down my throat.”
I left that worried man staring down the road in palpable fear. Wheeling my shopping trolley towards the market, I dreamt about my own forthcoming spiritual awakening: my mid-morning cup of coffee.