I read an interesting discussion yesterday of the likely future of QAnon, whose central organizing prediction is about to be refuted tomorrow with the inauguration of Joe Biden. The author of the piece (the link to which I have lost, alas) compared the prediction to the end times prophecies of Charles Russell which eventually morphed into the substantial religious organization known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. It all put me in mind of an experience I had 55 years ago or so while I was teaching at Columbia. I lived then in a Columbia owned apartment on the fifth floor of a building on 115th St. between Amsterdam and Morningside. One Sunday morning there was a knock on the door and when I answered it I found myself confronting two well-dressed, polite, but very insistent Jehovah’s Witnesses who had left their headquarters in Brooklyn to seek converts in the unlikely territory of Morningside Heights.
I really was in no mood for a fruitless theological debate but not wanting to be impolite I hit upon what turned out to be a foolproof response to their opening pitch. “I am terribly sorry,” I said earnestly, “but I cannot talk to about these matters.” “Why not?” the more forward of the two demanded. “Because,” I explained, “I belong to a religious sect that does not permit me to talk about any matter relating to religion with someone not in the sect.” “What sect is that?” he demanded to know. “Alas,” I replied, “I am not permitted to say.”
It brought the interaction to an immediate dead stop and they left. I felt a little badly since is a philosophy professor I thought I had a professional obligation to engage with them, rather like an off-duty doctor who comes upon someone having a heart attack. But I had not yet been to Zabar’s to get my weekly portion of bagels and smoked salmon and I was just not up to the challenge.