Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Deliver Us from ????: Assembly of God, Part 4

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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.

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19 Comments:

At September 24, 2008 , Blogger Maebius said...

I've been following this with interest, and thought you warned your readers we may not like your "final nail" I actually agree.

I also attended a good Born-again church group in my high-school years, and while it was fun initially, it did sour me on the ecstatic experience in general. (I've since gone almost full-circle and quasi-seek such rituals, but that's another long blogpost of my own)

with a 5yr old kid of my own, we enjoy going to pagan and mundane festivals, but while we enjoys bonfire dances, I have already discussed with the wife to try avoiding the most energetic and wild ones, for much the same reasons you spoke of. Too much, too soon.

It's always interesting though when our more mature mindscapes re-polish the experiences of our past with realization of the deeper meanings.
(ie: from a bunch of adults going frighteningly bonkers, to an esctatic spiritual experience that is at least somewhat understood.)

 
At September 24, 2008 , Blogger Nettle said...

I completely agree, too, with both Anne and Maebius, but I'll come from another angle - not as a parent (which I'm not) but as someone who appreciates a good strong dose of religious ecstasy now and then. If there's kids around? It's not happening. There's something about the presence of children that makes me vigilant for their well-being - even if they are in no way my responsibility, I still feel responsible for, um, not freaking out the kid. Kids are distracting.

I have been to gatherings that seem to interpret "family-friendly" as "let the kids run around anywhere they like without restriction" and it actually seems really UNfriendly, both to the kids and the adults. Some things really are just for grownups

 
At September 24, 2008 , Anonymous Illisse said...

I have to agree with you Anne. Now I'm 25 and don't have offspring, so take this with a grain of salt.

I don't think anybody should be inducted into any religion, at least a mystery religion – which Christianity falls under, until they are in their late 20's.

My reasoning most people don't know themselves well enough until they are out in the real world dealing with real people and real problems. (Some people will never know themselves well, regardless of age, but that is another post.)

IMHO - you can't really bring anything useful to the table until you know something. And being useful requires maturity. For those who don’t have the maturity to understand the rather interesting ways of the gods, such inductions serve no purpose other than to freak you the frack out and/or keep you in line.

Education, I’m down with – “We believe XYZ because of ABC, let’s make a little craft and sing a song about it.” Education makes you better over all but wisdom before it’s time is like dumping water into the ocean.


~Illisse

 
At September 24, 2008 , Blogger THE Michael said...

We as a society used to observe limits, which although I admit were influenced by religious "family values" to some degree, were common-sense secular rules which kept the raw edges of the adult human experience behind closed doors and in adult venues where they belonged. Now, however, and might I also suggest this all happened during the period that the right wing has been in control of this country, there seem to be no rules whatsoever. Decidedly adult material is being broadcast during ALL hours of the day into every mechanism capable of recieving signals, such as Jerry Spinger and movies which require "adult discretian". You see outright porn out in the open in Spencer's gifts, which is full of kids all year long. I will KILL any federal authority barging into MY private domain attempting to censor what I wish to see or hear, but why is all this trash out here in the public domain with our kids lapping it all up?

Religion, media, it's ALL killing us as a society, and I would dearly love to know how the Europeans are dealing with all this.

 
At September 24, 2008 , Blogger Livia Indica said...

I agree with you Anne. There are some things that children should not witness because they will simply not understand it. And while it may not always do them harm, it certainly won't do them any good. And who can get wild with kids around anyway?

 
At September 24, 2008 , Blogger A Wild Celtic Rose said...

I witnessed my first and last ecstatic roll in the aisles speaking in tongues event at the age of 21.

It freaked me out as bad as if I'd been ten.

It's odd, I've done ecstatic dancing, trance work and even drawn down, with no problem.

What I witnessed in that chruch still creeps me out today, and I was an adult.

 
At September 24, 2008 , Blogger greer said...

I had your exact same experience when I was 4. In my case I fainted and my mother had to carry me out of church. The next time I stepped foot in there was for my grandmother's funeral 30 yrs later. I _know_ that is what made me choose Catholicism when I was 7(nice, quiet, sedate ritual) but I fully believe it's what put me on the path to Paganism. That was some scary, scary s*it for a 4 yr old and I remember it clearly 44 yrs later.

 
At September 24, 2008 , Blogger democommie said...

I don't do religion at the moment and don't anticipate picking it up again. It's fine for those that want it. I hate seeing people forced into it though. That was the case when I was a kid, no choice. Then, when, I finally had a choice I just said the hell with all of it. I like Christmas hymns and a few great spiritual tune, bu that's about it for me.

 
At September 24, 2008 , Blogger sageweb said...

Wow I wished my parents would have thought like you Anne. I witnessed all that stuff and it left me totally turned off on the god stuff. I really think have the people are faking it though. They want to be accepted so badly they just play along.

 
At September 24, 2008 , Blogger yellowdog granny said...

thats why i like having my own religion..just me and the goddess. she listens to me while i pray and ask for help with the illness's of my friends and family..I talk about shit..she listens..i feel better...works for me...

 
At September 24, 2008 , Blogger Maeve said...

About the people faking it to be accepted- that holds true regardless of the religion. Which I think is another reason for the kids to not be at adult ritual. Kids want to be included as it is, no sense in them feeling pressured to do whatever mystical thing your religion does.

 
At September 24, 2008 , OpenID sabrinam82 said...

I'm in COMPLETE agreement with you, Anne. Ecstatic ritual of any type is just not for kids. Period. I'm over fifty, fairly new to Paganism, and even some of the reading about ecstatic ritual that I've done recently still scares the bejeebers out of me! I am quite fascinated, but taking part? I'm just not there yet.

Regarding Greer's comment about Catholicism and nice, quiet, sedate ritual . . . as a teacher in a Catholic school (yup, still there, even though my spirituality doesn't jibe with Catholicism any more--I like a nice steady paycheck, so I just shut up and play along for now. Am looking to make an employment or career change, though with the economy in the toilet that may be some time down the road. . .), I've come to believe that even a Catholic Mass isn't really a place for kids, either. Not that they seem particularly scared by any of it (though they might be if they paid any attention to the details), in my observation, they are just bored out of their minds by it all. If Catholics were to make going to Mass more like forbidden fruit, or at least something you have to earn the privilege of doing, they might find a lot more young people sneaking in instead of sneaking out.

 
At September 24, 2008 , Blogger BBC said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At September 25, 2008 , Anonymous sott'Eos said...

> It's odd, I've done ecstatic dancing, trance work and even drawn down, with no problem. What I witnessed in that chruch still creeps me out today, and I was an adult.

Maybe because that church is a death-cult. Between being very focused on a long-ago death (with lots of beautiful blood and suffering), and harping on our deaths and what happens afterword (unless you are lucky enough to be transported bodily into the afterlife without ever dying), what else could you call them? They're so centered around death, that their god had to die (not unique among religions, but put alongside the rest...)

> Free shipping on multiple deity orders

OMG! It just hit me, TGAB is the SAMS Club of religious sites: buy in bulk.

 
At September 25, 2008 , Blogger Anne Johnson said...

Billy, you can insult me all you like, but please refrain from making nasty comments about my readers.

 
At September 25, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My parents, nominal Protestants who never darkened a church door, let my grandmother start taking me to a Pentecostal Church of Christ when I was about five. All I remember is a sense of weirdness. Then they thought better and sent me to the American Baptists, where the first hymn I learned was "Jesus Loves the Little Children." Can't beat that.

Unfortunately it went on to other stuff, as it always does. I've been to many other conventicles since then and am still, at 60, sorting things out. I agree with illisse; I think that the worst thing Christians can do for their own religion is to introduce kids to concepts of sin and salvation that, whatever the ideas' truth value might be, kids just aren't ready for. (Auden complained about this in Kierkegaard.) It's like too-early sexual experience: it produces either obsession or obsessive aversion. In my case it left me with the aversion, combined with a nagging sense that there's something to it all that I'm just not able to get.

Rodger Cunningham

 
At September 25, 2008 , Blogger Frater Servitor said...

FOr me, the nail in the coffin was a little different. I was older, though, so I suppose you'd expect that. I was really zealous, I was, and I went ahead and did something that I thought would be met with general approval. I read the Bible from cover to cover, like a book. It never occurred to me that I wasn't supposed to do such a thing without proplr guidance. I mean, who knows, I might have read something that might have made me think.
That's what happened, in fact. I started thinking, and I started questioning. I asked one preacher-type a certain question, and he answered, "You know what your problem is? Your BRAIN is running away with you. It's taken over; your BRAIN has taken over. You think too much."
Well, in a sense he was right. My brain had taken over, and my brain told me to get the hell away from those people. Turned out that I could trust my brain better than I could trust them.
The holy-roller part is bad enough; were yoou ever at a healing session? I think the term "medicine Show" is the right one for this...

 
At September 27, 2008 , Blogger Pom said...

Illisse, you are wise beyond your years and thank you for your comment. You have given this particular old lady a completely different and new way to explain the difference between "us and them" rather eloquently and I'm grateful.

Nice series, Anne. Very enlightening as I've had little exposure outside of a few protestant denominations.

 
At September 27, 2008 , Blogger Morning Angel said...

"Had a lot of children, fed 'em on peaches. They all found Jesus on their own."
-Lyrics of "Spanish Pipedream"

"But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." -Hebrews 6:14

Anne, I believe both John Prine and St. Paul would agree with you that ecstatic experiences are matters of spiritual maturity, and that we should not forcefeed them to our children, who are likely to gag. Feed them peaches, not strong meat.

 

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