Saturday, May 19, 2007

Possums go churching.

This week, possums #1 and #2 attended a youth group with our nanny. Well...technically, I don't think it's a youth group (since the participants are college aged), but it's the same structure. Anyway... I got the chance to talk to them about it and found their thoughts to be interesting.

Possum#2 had a good time. There was a pool table and Foosball. You could put a Foosball table in the middle of the desert and P#2 would be happy.

Possum#1 said it was "pleasant". Her perspective was that these young adults were playing games and joking around,... and she didn't quite understand why there needed to be a religious reason for them to gather and have a good time. I told her it was like Girl Scouts for adults...fellowship and people with a like-minded desire to congregate. In the end, they had fun goofing around with everyone and playing the games, but the Bible study aspect was confusing (in the manner in which it was carried out). She was confused about "why?", from her perspective, these adults needed the affirmation and guidance "for a book". When I asked her about the discussion, she said that they kept saying (and the nanny said the same thing) "We're going to discuss the Book of James." (Nanny said, when I asked her what they had done: "We talked about the Book of James."), but P#1 noted that they just discussed a couple of passages. To P#1, it felt like "saying you'd studied Chaucer because you read two passages from the Canterbury Tales." I have to agree with her. Why not just say, "We're studying these two passages FROM the book of James."? P#1's theory was that studying the Bible in this manner makes it very easy to twist context and relevance to suit your agenda. I have to agree with her. If someone handed you "Gone With the Wind" and said, "please turn to page 321, second paragraph, third sentence...", would you claim to have studied GWTW? Even if you had done this repetitively, would you come away with an understanding of GWTW...or would you merely have used passages from the book to reinforce what you already believed? In essence: how is it a "study" if you don't study the work as a whole?

P#1 and I agree that, after reading a book, there *is* some merit to going back through it and examining passages for deeper meaning or literary allusion/context. But, doing so should be a reflective pursuit about how the passages deepen your understanding of the work as a whole. Starting with the verses and picking/choosing your verses before you've read the entire work is pretty worthless. It's like reading the Cliff Notes and then claiming you've read the book. I know, from her own testimony, that my nanny hasn't read the Bible cover-to-cover. And, I'm guessing that most of her study group has not done so. And, it's a fair assumption, with high probability, that younger children wouldn't have read the Bible cover-to-cover. So...why would any minister/priest/spiritual advisor encourage the faithful to use the Cliff Notes on their most venerated book?

P#1 was also wondering why these adults wouldn't be capable of drawing their own conclusions about the passages, sans guidance. Good question!

Anyone have an answer for her?


shaun said...

Anyone have an answer for her?

Because there is no Christianity without groupthink?

Ben said...

Because if you can draw your own conclusions about what is from scientific methods...

and you can draw your own conclusions about what was from historical methods...

and you can draw your own conclusions about how you ought to behave from your own values...

What do you need religion for ?

Karen - Jusgottastamp said...

Very interesting thoughts from such a young possum!! :)

I never really thought about it that way, to tell you the truth! It does make a lot of sense. I do have to say that at my parents' church they have "sessions" where they study a book. My mom is in a session where they're studying the book of Daniel--from start to finish.

Although, she does have the "guide" thing to follow along with. It does have the original word from Hebrew & its meanings, so I think that would be helpful since the regular lay person doesn't know that...but it does make you wonder if the reader is allowed to understand it differently...


Lisbon-Paris-Bucharest said...

I’ve got a few possibilities:

1. The bible is cryptic in style when you try to take moral lessons from it in the 21st century, without acknowledging what the cultures were in the first and second century CE (and in the few millenniums before), the socio-political goals of the authors in those contexts, an mainly, who they were addressing in the writings.

2. The bible is so hardcore in its events and behaviours, from start to finish, that you really need apologetics, (read, twisting yourself into a pretzel), to justify that horrid events, that so convincingly show the amorality and immorality of the passages, really are all about love, morality and justice. Well try that by yourself! You really need people feeding you the stuff and it helps if you read a few apologetics books before. That level of corruption of logic and honest thinking is very hard to achieve, if you don’t practice really hard, hence the group “debate”.

3. When a child is read an event in the bible, not just a verse or two, the whole think from beginning to end, you will frequently see the puzzled look, “how is that fair? How is that just?” The obvious conclusion, that the moral teachings of the bible are those of a mean prick (especially old school bible (OT), but the new and updated version (NT) designed to be more palatable to gentiles is not much different), need to be filtered, heavily filtered, by some kind of twisted theology, that only group-think and group dynamics can reinforce and sustain.

Love and kisses, the Corinthians (stolen from the great, Eddie Izzard)

Lisbon-Paris-Bucharest said...

3. When a child is read an event in the bible, not just a verse or two, the whole *thing*
Sorry, don’t want to spam the comments, but that typo makes it hard to read

Calladus said...

There are groups of Christians who do, under guidance, read the whole bible from cover to cover. The Calvary Chapel (of Ray Comfort fame) does so over a two year period. Frequently you will find Calvary Chapel websites have freely downloadable MP3's of the preacher going over each section of the bible.

From what I've discovered recently about the CC congregations is that they don't do much thinking about what they've learned. The do learn the apologetics for the bible in the course of the two years - and if they remember their lessons they become very good at tap-dancing their way out of difficult passages.

But, their knowledge is fragile and spoon fed. If you attempt to point out that a word or phrase might not mean what they think it does, or that bible scholars believe that some passages were added by Christian scribes hundreds of years later, they get very indignant. And if you point out that other Christians interpret a passage differently, they get downright snippy.

PerpetualBeginner said...

Studying in tiny hunks like that also makes it easy to do a bit of convoluted reasoning to get where you're going without having to notice that you're having to tap dance through the whole thing. I.e. when I first read the bible all the way through, I talked about my difficulties with my aunt, who was very Christian in the fundamentalist mode. She could explain any particular problem passage with ease, but couldn't quite parse the idea that it was a problem for me that she had to do that at least half-a-dozen times per page. If you have to contort the explanation that often, it's a good bet you're not interpreting it the way it was intended.

smellincoffee said...

Some churches consider the Bible to be the literal word of God -- that the "Word" existed before the world came into existance and that the world was even build on The Word. If you don't understand that, it's just a confusing way to say "Magic Book". Because the Bible is a magic book, there should be no discord between the themes of different books, so what James says the whole Bible is saying. Because the Bible is a magic book, the reader has to read James as The Word, not just one book in a set of books.

On the other hand, James is supposed to be a good book for Chrisitans to read -- full of easily understandable advice. I'd rather read Ecclesiastes 3:19-22.

Carlie said...

I'd love to figure out how you managed to raise them to be so reasonable. I imagine part of it is the lack of exposure to the groupthink from birth on, but there has to be some learned component that others can also master. I finally forced myself to watch Jesus Camp this weekend (and wrote a long narrative about it if you want the view from a former fundamentalist) and am trying desperately to figure out how to keep my children from ending up like that even though they have to go to a fundamentalist church every week (their dad is still into it).
The only thing I can think of is to 'subversively' help them to be critical thinkers, but man. The alternative result is difficult to think about.

Saurian200 said...


Anyone have an answer for her?

Yes. For a lot of people being right means everything. When you study on your own, then you have nobody reinforcing your beliefs.

It's easy to believe that your beliefs are absolutly right and everyone else is absolutely wrong when you surround yourself only with people who already agree with you.

Basically, while many of these people could read the Bible on thier own, they wouldn't have anyway of reinforcing that what they think is absolutely right. Reading in a group of people who share your interpretation of the book is much easier on the ego.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to figure out how you managed to raise them to be so reasonable.

I think she came pre-wired. ;) Seriously though, kids are weird. P#1 can be incredibly reasonable on some subjects, but then be completely unreasonable about others. I suppose we're all like that.

I imagine part of it is the lack of exposure to the groupthink from birth on, but there has to be some learned component that others can also master.
Honestly? I think it's partially due to the fact that my husband and I don't mind being wrong, on occasion. It may turn out to be a huge mistake, somewhere down the road, but... I've always admitted my short-comings or mistakes to them. Maybe that gives them more courage to make their own? I know it gives them more courage to tell me about their own mistakes? I also try NOT to talk down to them. It's hard to fight my own upbringing on that one, but I do try. I think if you give kids a voice and deal with them like you actually care about their opinions, then they can't lose and neither can you. KWIM?

The only thing I can think of is to 'subversively' help them to be critical thinkers, but man. The alternative result is difficult to think about.

;) Critical thinking is key! I'll pop over for your review in a bit. I'm VERY interested in seeing what you have to say. :)

Carlie said...

Thanks! I don't have a blog of my own (pout), and due to family reasons I don't want to post it on my myspace, but I can email it to you if you'd like.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I don't have a blog of my own (pout), and due to family reasons I don't want to post it on my myspace, but I can email it to you if you'd like.

Sure. I think you can e-mail me from my profile, here.

Anatoly said...

This whole picking and choosing of passages is a wierd concept indeed. Though I never really thought about it until now. It was like I talked to a Catholic friend who never read the entire Bible, when I asked why she said it wasnt "relevant to her faith."

Now, I didnt push her further- I mean how can she claim that a book wholy that was written (or inspired) by God is not wholy relevant. But it does seem to be pushing the compartamization and cherry picking of certain Biblical passages to adhere to a certain belief- one of a loving, caring God.

Though Christians might not consider it that way. They might call it looking for inspirational passages or drawing moral lessons or certain passages they disagree with being "not relevant to their faith" without considering the implications. It's certainly an interesting topic, one to explore deeper. But it all seems like the many Christians are not using the Bible as a book to guide life by (and thank science!) but a sort of a "quote book."

lynn's daughter said...

Teacher here. Unfortunately, Possum darling, most people do not teach their children critical thinking, and due to a little thing called, "No Child Left Behind," we're discouraged from it. As a result, most adults are sheep, and so are their children. They must be told what to do, and that's why religion is so comforting; nobody actually has to think about anything; they do what they're told to do and think what they're told to think.

Olga said...

I'm really hoping my children can also come to a point where they are surrounded by that kind of environment and question it. I'm just feeling really encouraged that these are the types of children I can raise. Mine are only two and in utero but I already feel like I'm fighting with religious preschools, chick fi la and everyone in the bible belt.

Thanks for giving me hope.

Anonymous said...

I gave a talk on this very subject this very evening, so I'll toss in my two cents worth, though the commenters here have already hit on most of the major reasons for why these adults wouldn't be capable of drawing their own conclusions about the passages, sans guidance.

In Christianity, adults, let alone children, are not allowed to use their own reasoning skills to extract meaning from their scriptures largely because of how adherents view what it means to be a member of their denomination or sect. In marketing terms, this is the same a "branding" or "market discrimination," that is, what makes a Missouri Synod Lutheran distinct from a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran or from an Evangelical Lutheran Synod Lutheran or a Southern Baptist, etc, etc.

To be a member of one church necessarily implies that one is not simultaneously part of another: it's very much an us-versus-them mindset. In order to demarcate "them's" from "us's," it is necessary - to the exent that people allow themselves to be manipulated - for clergy to enforce uniformity of thought related to their holy books through apologetics, and to, as far as possible, suggest that their particular doctrines and dogmas originate in divinity by being taken directly from those inerrant holy books, by being handed down as distinct and separate revelations to a sect founder, or by being deduced from some combination of these. Uniformity of sectarian practice puts a fine edge on where "we" end and, thus, where "they" begin. Sectarian uniformity unduly lauds being one of "us" and unjustly derogates being one of "them." The clergy want inculcated one simple idea: it's really good to be "us," and it's really bad to be "not us."

This need for uniformity also relates directly to the inspecting of particular Bible verses out of context. A United Methodist will share Genesis with you in poetic, metaphorical or allegorical terms. A Pentecostal won't be so high-minded and will suggest that Genesis is true precisely as written. "Branding" consistently tells us that these characterizations of United Methodist and Pentecostal are correct. One holy book, two completely different perspectives, and two distinct attempts at establishing uniformity of interpretation in their members.

In addition to the broad interpretive license allowed by differing approaches to literalism, we have the sectarian need to force perspectives. In Abraham and Isaac, the forced perspective consists of asserting that killing one's own child is highly esteemed as "faith" if one is fortunate enough to suffer from the proper delusion. The Noah's Ark forced perspective is that it was a good thing to have all but eight humans annihilated. Further, it was a good thing that every single child on the planet was destroyed while rattlesnakes, naked mole rats, and cockroaches were spared. Watching an adult drive this idea into the credulous minds of small children in Sunday School classes, exemplifies why religions can be construed as psychological child abuse. Without the adult-mediated forced perspective, a child, left to her own innate ethical sensibilities would reject the idea that killing all children was a good thing, and would further reject that a father should kill his child -- ever, regardless of his delusions.

Despite the best efforts of Christian church leaders, however, Christian sects continue to proliferate, ballooning from around 24000 in the mid-1990's to about 34000 today. The escalating number of sects reflect both the intense dissatisfaction by churchgoers, as well as the religion industry as an example of an unregulated free-market in action.

Contrary to media-promoted public perception, religious participation in the US is declining. So, as the number of sects increases, the churchgoers supporting those new sects are coming from existing ones. Those highly-prominent megachurches, for instance, with 10, 20, or 30 thousand members are peopled not with new religious converts but rather with defectors from surrounding churches, drawn to the huge church by amenities like gyms, spas, daycare, shopping, and pools, which the smaller church can't provide. The megachurches are killing off nearby competing churches and many members of those failed churches are electing to abandon religion altogether instead of being lured into being an unfulfilled relatively insignificant speck in a highly impersonal religious corporate entity.

The free market aspects of religion should appeal to all but the most indolent of frauds. In the US, churches are not required to report their revenues to the government, they pay no taxes, many of the businesses they operate are not subject to any regulation - including daycare facilities, for instance - they can tell any lie they choose to induce increased donations, and they are not liable for the consequences of their lies. Now, that's free market: claim whatever you choose to extract money from your dupes and never be held accountable.

RICHIE said...


Where did you get the info that Church related daycares are; 1) not regulated 2) do not pay payroll/ss/medicare, etc. ? Your posts, including your original Blog of 11/26 is well written. Tonight's post is equally thought provoking!

Anonymous said...

Hi Richie,
I'm not Russ,...but I play him on tv. ;) No. Just kidding.

To my knowledge, a lot of churches use "volunteers" or other "missions" to staff their child care service departments. Their "licensing" would depend on the requirements of the state that the church is located in and the nature of the care provided. Usually, if the care if provided for services and/or group meetings, the services can be rendered for free and, therefore, are tax free. If you're not paying anyone to babysit, you don't have to pay employment taxes. Since the land is registered for non-prophet, most churches don't pay any property tax (since churches are exempt). I'm not sure, and I would have to check with an accountant, but... I think some states DO require that daycares on church property pay a percentage of property tax...but, I have a feeling that it's a pittance. And, as I was told by a church accountant, once: "Even our daycare income can be applied to a tax free account." I'm guessing that it's considered a "donation" to the church, rather than payment for a specific service. I know that's how the Catholic Church gets around things like wedding fees and baptism fees. They never actually call it a fee, it's a "donation"?
In the case of daycares, I've actually seen payments written to "preschool ministry" in some churches.

RICHIE said...


my website is http:/

I thought it would post as part of my previous comment ..

RICHIE said...

Thanks Possum 1&2 's Mom...

My daughter did licensed daycare at a Church-related facility during her college years in Fargo, ND. I did her taxes back then and we did render "unto Ceaser" ... both fed and state. She also had to be CPR certified and pass a background check. She also had to pass a back-ground check, register with the State and have CPR to volunteer at a Church-affiliated/State-certified Children's Home in HS. Her Church-related volunteer work in Honduras and Nicaraqua also required pre-screening and linquistic familiarity with the culture.

I find your blog provocative. I am a Messianic-Jew.
Are you by any chance affiliated with Mensa?


ps I think it's cool that you supported your children's chance to go w/ Nanny on her week-end.

Anonymous said...

ps I think it's cool that you supported your children's chance to go w/ Nanny on her week-end.

She's actually not our "Nanny" in the sense that she lives here or helps often. She just pops by to help when my husband is out of town, because I have a chronic illness and like the back-up, in case of emergencies. So, Nanny came over for the evening and had a prior commitment to her youth group. :) I let the kids go because I think it's good for them to experience other perspectives and beliefs, first hand. And, Nanny is a sweet girl who loves them dearly. It can't, in my mind, hurt the kids to see where she "comes from".

I find your blog provocative. I am a Messianic-Jew.
Are you by any chance affiliated with Mensa?

Messianic-Jew... I honestly can't say that I'm overly familiar with that categorization. I vaguely recall that the term/religion can apply to both Jews and Gentiles and that the one "Messianic Jew" I know is highly critical of the New Testament (above and beyond what most Judaic followers consider). Could you recommend a site, or book, that you find to be a fair overview? :)
As for Mensa... I was involved as a child and a young adult. But, there isn't an active chapter near our home. We did have P#1 tested (IQ and EQ), when she was six or so, because she was precociously bright. At the time, she scored in the 150's. Her most recent IQ test was in the 160's...but, as most people know, testing is only one indicator and it's not a very good indicator in children. P#2 hasn't been formally tested, but he's taken the internet variety of test and was in the 140's also.

Are you a member?
Thanks for reading, Richie!
I'll check out your blog in the morning. For now, I have to get school lunches packed and a few household duties finished before turning in (to read for an hour). ;)

Tone said...

Growing up catholic I don't even remember cracking open a bible. You used your Missals for services and for CCD they had published "text books". I think if more people took the time to learn more about not only other religions but their own, beyond what the churches want them to see there would be many more of us.

Stew said...

It's something that really bugs me about the Bible - the fact that it needs to be explained. by experts. with side notes from the original Hebrew or Greek.

It's supposed to be the word of God for chrissake! It's supposed to be God revealing Himself and his plan for us, why did He make it so cryptic?

Anonymous said...

The bible is bullshit, the Koran is a lie, the bagavad gita did not fall from the sky
These are the books that were written by men.
They've caused wars, now follow if you can,Corporate Avenger a American Indian band.

JS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JS said...

It's supposed to be the word of God for chrissake! It's supposed to be God revealing Himself and his plan for us, why did He make it so cryptic?

In the words of an old computer science joke: God may be a good coder, but his documentation is pretty lousy.

- JS

rsh said...

Oh, no. Does this mean I cannot entirely discount the Bible or consider it hogwash unless I've read it cover to cover?

fubarmonkey said...

That's frankly never a concept I understood. Most people tend to take the bible and pick and choose what their beliefs, claiming all the other "bad stuff" as negligible and ignorable. This is fine by me for the most part (as long as the parts they believe are benign), but it seems pointless.

Here you have a book, like any other book, that makes good points and bad points. It's one thing if someone was reviewing the Bible as any other book and they happen to point out some really good passages (and there actually quite a few in the Bible that I could agree with), but in the same review also point the really, really bad ones.

But Christians aren't reviewers (or at least not supposed to be). They see the Bible as the word of God, and as they worship God, they vicariously worship the Bible, and yet they still pick and choose. The Bible makes claims of how people that went against God (when he spoke to them directly) ended up regreting it, and yet most Christians have ignored his writing and don't seem to see the similarity.

I have to hand it to some sects like Evangelist and Jehovah Witnesses. At least they make a claim to take it more literal (though they both still seem to twist passages to fit their beliefs).

Sorry about the long post. BTW, I meant to introduce myself earlier to you, PM. I'll probably be a frequent reader and even more frequent poster and thinking about starting a blog on my own about atheism.

Paul said...

Since the land is registered for non-prophet, most churches don't pay any property tax

Made me LOL.

Margaret said...

Very interesting.

I just stumbled across your blog from a link in About's Agnosticism/Atheism forum and I'm glad I did.

I (an atheist) have friends who go to bible study and, though I've never pointed it out to them (I'm respectful as long as they don't cram their beliefs down my throat), I've wondered the very same thing. I'd love to know what their reason for needing to study the bible with others would be (if I bring it up, though, I suspect they're going to take it as an attack whether or not it turns into one - they can be a little overly sensitive about the fact that I'm an atheist).