My Sect Is Right and Yours Is Wrong — Obviously

This Skepticblog post has a review of a book called God Bless America: Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in the United States by Dr Karen Stollznow, has this opening passage:

When I grew up in the Presbyterian Church, we were given a slim little paperback book about the various religious cults and what they believed. We had all heard about the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, and Christian Science, but as naïve high school kids, we knew nothing about them. It was truly an eye-opener to read all about their strange beliefs, as the book preached why they were wrong and why the Presbyterians were right. At no point did the book turn the mirror on itself, and examine the weird ideas espoused by the Presbyterians and other mainstream Christians.

Yes, exactly. My own religious upbringing was relatively mild. My parents had grown up at Methodists, IIRC, but when we settled in the San Fernando Valley, when I was 7 or so, the nearest convenient church was a Presbyterian one – in fact, via Google, here it is: Kirk O’ the Valley — and so that’s where we went every Sunday. My mother sang in the choir, for two services each Sunday. Father and kids attended the first service – I went to Sunday school, being taught Bible stories with pretty illustrations – and while waiting out my mother’s singing for the second service, father and kids went to the nearby Piggly-Wiggly, at Vanowen and Tampa, to eat donuts.

A few years later we moved to a suburb of Chicago, Glen Ellyn, and attended a Presbyterian Church there. What the quoted passage above recalls is that I attended a young-adults group on Sunday evenings (as always, IIRC, meaning I’m not sure now which night it was on). And here were my first awkward moments with what religion was trying to tell me. One evening involved the group leader’s reading the lyrics of Simon & Garfunkel’s song Mrs. Robinson. (So this was 1968 or so, when I was 13.) Because of, you know, the lyrics about “Jesus loves you more than you will know”. To this day I remember the sardonic, rather uncomfortable, way he recited these words.

But more to the point was a later session of this same group, in which the group leader was discussing what our religion’s beliefs were about… IIRC, destiny, and whether life is predestined. Though he raised the issue in a way to invite student feedback, he guided the discussion to make it clear that *obviously* what those *other* religions felt was wrong, and what *our* Presbyterian sect believed was obviously right. It was a matter of social dynamics at that moment and groupthink, carefully managed. But as I realized even at that time, without any intellectual justification, one way or the other.

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