Recently read: Steinberg’s “Age of Opportunity”

Laurence Steinberg, Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence (First Mariner Books, 2015). (Amazon; Bookshop)

Laurence Steinberg is a psychologist who happens to be one of the foremost experts on adolescence (see his fuller credentials here). His book, Age of Opportunity, applies the insights gathered by psychologists into what is going on in the minds and bodies of emerging adults.

The first few chapters are an informative look at why adolescence is so important for the development of humans (probably the second most important developmental stage) and what’s happening in the human brain at this time. If you’re a parent or an educator, I guarantee these insights will help you become more patient with your evolving children/students.

Chapter 3, “The Longest Decade,” is important because it explains why “adolescence” can actually last about two decades. In other words, this stage of brain and body development isn’t over at 18 or 21…not even close. Think late 20s!

Chapter 4, “Protecting Adolescents from Themselves,” drives home the point that adolescents are “risk-takers,” far more than those of us who are post-adolescence. This comes with many risks and possibilities that parents/educators need to consider.

Maybe the most unique argument offered by Steinberg is that one of the most important things that must be developed in adolescences in “self-regulation”. This is the central thesis of chapter 6 but remains key to the rest of the book’s argument with gives advice to parents in chapter 7 and educators in chapter 8.

If you’re wondering what’s going on in the brain of teens and most twenty-somethings, this book is worth your time. As I’ve mentioned, it’s beneficial to parents and educators. And I think it’ll make you a more patient person!


Parenting, the Bible, and Faith-Transitions

My experience as a Religious Studies Instructor who teaches high schoolers, and conversations I’ve had with friends who are rethinking how they may or may not teach the Bible to their own children, led me to ponder whether some parts of the Bible are more appropriate for others depending on the age of a child. See “Rating the Bible”. Now I see Jared Byas of “The Bible for Normal People” fame has released a podcast episode titled “Parenting in a Faith Transition” with his wife, Sarah Byas, where they discuss this topic, so I thought I’d share but also document so that I remember it as I continue to think on this topic.

Rating the Bible

I teach the Bible in a high school setting. It’s a college preparatory school. It’s not a Sunday School. But it’s a high school, so even if I’m trying to give them a near-college experience, there are many ways that I have to teach that remain age-appropriate.

For example, if I show a film, some R-rated films are never going to be acceptable. Other R-rated films are acceptable with parent permission. PG-13 and below are fine.

So, what of the Bible then? There have been years where I’ve avoid the Song of Songs and years when I’ve taught it. When I’ve taught it, it was the equivalent to blurring out the sensitive parts in a picture. I tell them it’s about romance and sexuality. Like many translators of the Bible into English, I choose to soften the language. But is Song of Songs best left alone when teaching adolescents or left only to certain teachers—kind of like sex ed isn’t a topic taught by all teachers?

What about graphic violence? Children hear the story of the Great Flood (a.k.a. “Noah’s Flood”) at a very young age…but the Creator literally drowns almost all of humanity. This is worse than genocide. Do smiling giraffes on a boat really soften the narrative? Should children learn about that story at all?

Should there be a form of trigger warnings? I feel that it’s important to discussed King David’s abuse/rape of Bathsheba to understand the full depiction of the man in the Bible but that’s a tough topic to cover. On the other hand, I don’t want students becoming young adults and thinking the Bible is a squeaky clean book. I’ve heard too many young Christians dismiss the Quran because of content that’s in their own Holy Book but due to biblical illiteracy among the faithful their prejudice goes unchecked.

If the Bible were to receive film ratings for chapters, what rating would each chapter receive. gives basic explanations of how films are judged. Here’s a visual from their webpage:

If you go to pp. 6-7 of their “Classification and Ratings Rule” you’ll see how they determine what label to give and what content should be mentioned in the warning box.

If we were to rate Genesis 1, what rating would it receive? What about Revelation 12?

Common Sense Media has their own rating system for movies that helps parents decide based on criteria such as:

  1. “What age is the movie aimed at?”
  2. Quality
  3. Educational value
  4. Messages and role models
  5. Violence, sex, and language
  6. Consumerism
  7. Drinking, drugs, and smoking
  8. User reviews

Would “user reviews” be how people have experienced the Bible? I don’t jest here. For some, the Bible is extremely live-giving. For others, frankly, it’s been used to traumatize them and they’re best off if they spend some time away from a book that has been weaponized against them.

For kicks, it would be fun to rate the Bible using a rating system created by conservative Christians, such as movieguide. If I just gave you the plot of the Samson narrative, where would it rate using this scale?

Does a literary narration of Samson’s violence and sexual exploits differ from a visual presentation? Would you read a story from the Bible that you wouldn’t show if it were depicted as a movie, cartoon, anime, etc.? I find this line of inquiry to be pretty fascinating and I wonder how this relates to how publishers package the Bible for teens.

Gen Z, Millennials, and religion: three studies

Here are three recent studies on how Gen Z and Millennials relate to religion:

Teens on their phones: two interpretations

On the one hand, as a ‘Millennial’ who uses his phone too much, I’m sympathetic toward teens who seem to have something of a phone addiction. On the other hand, as a teacher, I’m grateful to our school’s administration for banning phone use in the classroom (unless the teacher gives permission to use it for something related to class). Teens on their phones can be learning more, faster, than most of us could at their age. Teens on their phones can also be zombies who fell into the rabbit hole of YouTube, Tik Tok, or Snapchat. Because of this, I got a kick out of two tweets commenting on a picture of teens sitting in a museum using their phones. (FWIW, these two tweets reinforce the ongoing Boomer v. Millennial battle.)

Tweet #1

Tweet #2

Interestingly, a side-by-side comparison of these tweets invites us to do something similar to what a walk through an art gallery does: it invites us to experience to subjectivity of our own interpretation and to reinterpret it in light of the interpretation of other.

I’ve heard it said ‘everything is ethics’ but I prose ‘everything is hermeneutics’.

Students’ life satisfaction and the meaning of life

Saw this comic after I posted this blog entry but had to add it!

A philosopher I follow on Twitter tweeted this today:

Obviously, as a high school teacher, this caught my attention. Evans backed down a bit on his critique of secularism in another tweet but the question remains: ‘Why do British teens think life is meaningless?’ To be accurate, if I understand the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results (‘a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) the average life satisfaction of British teens (they survey 15-year-olds) is 6.16 of 10 (61.6%), so that means they’re more satisfied than not. But what alarmed the philosopher and the author of this article is a 0.81% drop in three years.

What of the United States? The average is better than the UK. Students in the US reported 6.75 of 10 (67.5%) but like the UK, the US dropped as well. We saw a drop of 0.60%. The UK, Japan, and the US showed the greatest drop in life satisfaction over the past three years.

What about ‘meaning and purpose’? The teens surveyed responded to three statements: (A) My life has clear meaning or purpose; (B) I have discovered a satisfactory meaning in life; (C) I have a clear sense of what gives meaning in my life. US teens had scores of 71/65/69. UK teens 57/52/58. The average? 68/62/66. (Panama’s 86/82/85 led the way.)

If you want to read more on their findings on this particular topic, see 11. Students’ life satisfaction and meaning in life. If you don’t have time, here’s there big take-aways:

Why do people leave their childhood religions?

According to the Pew Forum’s analysis in 2016:

Among those who say they were raised exclusively by Protestants, roughly eight-in-ten now identify with Protestantism, including 80% of those raised by two Protestant parents and 75% of those raised by a single parent who was Protestant. Most who were raised exclusively by Protestants but who no longer identify as such are now religious “nones,” with smaller numbers now identifying with Catholicism or other religions.

‘One-in-Five Adults Were Raised in Interfaith Homes’

What does this tell us? Well, it indicates that at least among Protestants the greatest indicator of your potential religiosity is the religion of your parents. Other researchers have confirmed this theory.

In Religious Parenting: Transmitting Faith and Values in Contemporary America, Christian Smith, Bridget Ritz, and Michael Rotolo make this observation on pages 6-7: ‘The best general predictor of what any American is like religiously, after comparing all of the other possible variables and factors, is what their parents were like religiously when they were raising their children…when viewing Americans as a whole, the influence of parents on religiousness trumps every other influence, however much parents and children may assume otherwise.’

This raises an important question: What about the rise of the ‘Nones’, i.e. those with no religious affiliation? Surely, most of their parents weren’t Nones! Andrew Henry’s recent episode of Religion for Breakfast attempts to tackle this related question, ‘Why Do People Leave Their Childhood Religion?’ Since this the first question that arose in my mind when I read that most people follow the religion of their parents, I was excited to see this video being released at this moment. Watch it!

Reading the Bible from the perspective of different generations (a project)

Iconography of the Prophet Micah (via ‘The Ohio Anglican’ blog)

I have some students who have asked if they can do anything to earn some extra credit to help their grades, and of course, I have students who will do as much extra credit as possible to perfect their grades. So, I’ve created a project that answers those requests while also providing me with data I’ll find valuable. In other words, basically, I’m a modern tech company: I provide a service; you provide me information!

I’m calling the assignment the ‘Multi-Generational Reading Project’. Here’s the basic purpose and instructions I’ll be sharing with students today:


This extra credit assignment pairs a student with an adult in their life. The adult can be a parent, a guardian, an aunt or uncle, grandparent, or any adult with whom the student has a meaningful connection. The goal (on my end) is to see what similarities and differences I can observe in how people from different generations read and interpret the Bible. The benefit for the student is the extra credit and hopefully a unique, shared experience with the aforementioned adult.


Below, you’ll find an excerpt from a passage from the Jewish Tanakh/Christian Old Testament. Please read the passage separately at first. Then both of you will email me at answering the questions I’ve posted below the passage excerpt. Please do this separately as well. When you’ve both sent your email, then you can come together and discuss how you both understood the passage. Once your discussion is finished, the student should then email me again with five observations from your discussion (e.g., What did your interpretations have in common? In what way were they different? Did you share approaches to finding out more about something you don’t know offhand?)

The passage I chose (thank you Daniel A. for the recommendation) is Micah 6.1-8 (NIV). This is a short excerpt making it easier on the adult who agrees to participate. Also, it has elements that may be confusing to those who are less biblically literate (e.g., who are Balak and Balaam), elements that are more familiar (e.g, references to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam), and then what we might call ‘moralistic’ statements open to interpretation (e.g., ‘what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’).

These are the questions I’ve asked my students to share with the adult they choose. My goal is that they would read the passage, separately, answer these questions via email, separately, and then they’d come back together to discuss. The student is required to send me a follow-up email about their discussion where they make five observations about how they read the Bible in juxtaposition with the adult with which they’ve paired. Here are my questions:


  1. What do you know about the Book of Micah without researching it?
  1. If you wanted to know more—like who Micah was, or who his audience was, or what his message was—where would you go (to what sources or people) to find that information? How would you get access to these sources/people?
  1. Why would you choose these sources/people? Why do you find them trustworthy? 

Interpretive (answer without researching):

  1. Why do you think this author depicts God as appealing to the mountains/hills to hear his case in verses 1-2? 
  1. What’s the value of mentioning Moses, Aaron, and Miriam in verse 4?
  1. What’s the value of mentioning Balak and Balaam in verse 5?
  1. Rhetorically, what’s the point of questioning the sacrificial system in verses 6-7?
  1. In your opinion, what does it mean in verse 8 to ‘act justly’? What does it mean to ‘love mercy’? What does it mean to ‘walk humbly with your God?’

My hope is that this gets students to talk with their parents, or grandparents, or someone about the Bible they’ve been studying this semester. The Thanksgiving Break is a great time for a project like this. Selfishly, I’m interested to see what similarities and differences emerge as I compare how students read the Bible with the adults in their lives.

When should children learn about Noah and the Ark?

When I talk about ‘generational hermeneutics’ as a potential sub-field within larger fields like Religious Studies or Biblical Studies, I imagine fruitful conversations await us both in describing how things are but also how things should be (the ‘is/ought’ division). Let me begin with the ‘is’ question. I see few scholars asking questions about how children and adolescents actually read the Bible when they read it. The only book I’ve encountered (at a library), and intend to buy and read one day, is Melody R. Briggs’ How Children Read Biblical Narrative: An Investigation of Childrens’ Readings of the Gospel of Luke. I’m sure there’s more work being done but I don’t think it’s receiving as much attention as it should.

How do children read the Bible differently from adolescents and how to adolescents read the Bible differently from adults? Or, how do children process religious instruction differently than adolescents and adolescents differently from adults? I know the latter has received some attention, for example, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Teenagers by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton. I think more attention is deserved.

The second question is the ‘ought’ question. As a high school teacher I have to be cautious about how I teach certain parts of the Bible. For example, I don’t spend a lot of time on the Song of Songs. Likewise, it’s always a little tricky explaining the appearance of Shiva’s lingam. This task is complicated further for my colleagues who teach middle school students. Definitely skipping the Song of Songs with the seventh graders! But this raises a question: When can students read the Song? Or, as I joked in the meme above, when should we teach the story of Noah and the Ark? I mean, the Creator literally washes humanity from the earth like we’re a stain and we turn around and tell children about it because, ‘Oh, look, cute animals!’ Is this wise? Is this age-appropriate?

On a recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts—The Bible for Normal People with Pete Enns and Jared Byas—they interviewed author Cindy Wang Brandt about her book Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Mercy, and Kindness. She talked about growing up in a fundamentalist-type home and how certain approaches to the Bible and religion can leave adults with a lot of baggage to work through. They spoke about how parents might avoid harming their children with the Bible and religion. I think these are questions that should be asked even outside of ‘practicing’ circles. Scholars of religion can and should mix with psychologists and sociologists who study children and youth and their brain development. We should be asking questions about the ‘ethics of indoctrination’. I know some of the more established religious traditions have been thinking about this sort of thing for centuries as we see in say Catholic Confirmation or the Jewish Bar/Bat Mitzvah. But there’s more to be done. And I have a feeling some work is being done in various disciplines but we need cross-pollination.

So, when should children read the story of Noah and the Ark? When are they mature enough? Is it ok to introduce it to them as a happy story about God saving animals when they’re young and then return to it later to discuss some of the more complex, even disturbing aspects of the story later?

AAR/SBL, ‘Generational Hermeneutics’, and Adolescent Religion

This weekend I’ll be headed to San Diego, CA, for the AAR/SBL Annual Meeting. It’ll be the first time I’ve attended in a few years and I’m going with a whole new set of interests. Last time I attended I was a doctoral student struggling to write a dissertation in what we might call ‘classical’ Biblical Studies, a.k.a., Biblical Studies with an emphasis on the Historical-Critical lens. In the meantime, I did finish that dissertation (though I never found the energy to reshape it into something worth publishing) and I began teaching Religious Studies to high schoolers. The latter is where I find happiness now. While I hope that some of my work from the past can slowly be turned into a few articles and maybe a book, what interests me the most now is how adolescents read the Bible and how adolescents think about religion.

In other words, my audience is also one of my favorite topics. But this raises a question: Where does one go during AAR/SBL to find scholars looking into topics like ‘generational hermeneutics’, i.e., how younger people read the Bible different than their predecessors? Or, do many AAR sessions ponder adolescent religion outside of the rise of the Nones?

The rise of the Nones is a fascinating topic. For example, see Timothy Beal’s recent article in the WSJ titled ‘Can Religion Still Speak to Younger Americans?’ I find this subject to be very interesting. And for many scholars of religion who teach at the college-level, the future of your departments, and the future of your profession, will be shaped by how interested these ‘kids’ are in religion by the time they become college students. So, there’s practical reasons to care, but there’s also scholarly reasons to care.

Scholarship has been enriched as we’ve thought deeply about how feminism, or Black American culture, or LGBTQ+ interests shed new light on a variety of subjects. What about generational differences? Might there be a ‘generational hermeneutic’ worth discussing? If so, what would it take for future AAR or SBL sessions to be dedicated to exploring how emerging generations ‘do’ and ‘think’ religion? I feel like AAR would have an easier time incorporating something like this (and maybe I’m missing something…if so, point it out to me, please) but I believe it could make for some really interesting SBL sessions as well.