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I've been taking a stroll down memory lane to the time in the mid- to late-1960s when I attended an Assembly of God church not far from Antietam Battlefield. I've bothered to do this because our future vice-president, Sarah Palin, belongs to that denomination and, one assumes, accepts its tenets and practices.
We have to assume a lot about her, don't we? Cuz she is as mum as Dick Cheney, if slightly better looking.
Back to the Assembly of God:
I think I attended for about 18 months, and for most of that time I was insulated in a Children's Church during the hours of adult church. However, I graduated from the kiddie ranks and moved to the main show, probably at about the time I started fourth grade.
If you read the post below, you know that I saw a group of girls older than myself savagely rebuked from the pulpit for wearing short skirts. I don't recall seeing any other group torn apart like this. But teenage girls are a vulnerable lot, for the most part. Easy pickins for humiliation.
I finally stood up to my domineering mother and refused to attend the Assembly of God anymore. The tipping point, for me, was an evening revival sermon. It so frightened me that I wouldn't have gone into that church again unless I was being chased by rabid hounds.
The pastor worked himself into a lather, but he usually did. What terrified me was the behavior of the congregants. Grown men and women literally rolled in the aisles of the sanctuary. Others sprang from their seats and spoke in tongues. A great many adults wept, staggered to the altar, threw themselves at God's mercy.
If you are ten years old and watching this, it leaves an indelible impression. And as a kid you can go two ways on it. Either you accept it as the way things are supposed to be, or you recoil from it as too frightening to handle.
I chose the latter. Put the little girl foot down and refused any more holy rolling. And I haven't set foot inside an Assembly of God since then. So I don't know for sure that they still do such stuff.
But ... here comes the controversy ... I do know this. What those adults were experiencing was valid religious ecstasy. That kind of ecstatic response is not unique to fundamentalist Christianity. It is widespread and takes many forms. Pagans sometimes have their own ways of expressing it.
Here's my opinion, and you sure don't have to agree.
I don't think children under the age of fourteen should witness adults engaging in religiously-motivated ecstatic experiences. Remember when you were a little kid, how large and tall all the adults seemed? How full of authority? When those authority figures throw aside their culturally-sanctioned daily behavior, it's way scary to a kid.
Around this time last year, my daughter The Spare and I attended a Druid get-together in New Jersey's Pine Barrens. The Spare had a wonderful time there. She got to make crafts out of clay. She met a boy her age, and they found plenty to giggle about. She loved the food. But when time came for the Ritual, she didn't want to participate. And I didn't push it.
I was glad I didn't. Because this particular Druid Grove practices a more ecstatic form of Druidism than my regular Grove -- and certain things were said and done during that Ritual that I considered too mature for a middle-schooler. I'm not talking about dancing, or nudity, or speaking in tongues ... There was none of that. But I believe that the Ritual would have spooked The Spare away from Druidism.
If you have a young child, and you engage in ecstatic religious events, Sister Annie suggests you leave the child at home, or at least back at the camp site. Too much too soon made me sour on the Christian faith. I'm fairly certain that I'd have had a similar reaction to a wild drum circle when I was that age.
No matter what religion you follow, keep it low-key in front of the kids. Otherwise they may grow up taking your genuine divine inspiration to unhealthy levels, or they'll just shrug off the religion altogether.
If you disagree with me, please feel free to leave a comment. Except for you, Billy. We all know you think religion is for monkeys. Don't risk carpal tunnel syndrome by typing it out again.