Religious Taxonomy

I’m sure it is passe, or as discredited in elite spaces as the resurrection, but Bloom’s taxonomy for education still makes sense to me as an intellectual model.  A Taxonomy is simply a description of the way things are. The glaring error, if there is one in Bloom’s description, is that it is intellectual.  It makes no room for emotional reality.  And if you think we are first emotional elephants with little riders occasionally with great effort altering the course of the stampede, that is a big error.  But it’s the best I’ve seen.  It holds that the foundations of all learning are: Knowledge, comprehension and application.  Knowledge is simple facts, 2+2 = 4. Comprehension means not just memorization of facts, but some understanding of what they mean.  That in 2+2 you are doing addition. And then application means some of the facts can change. If you know 2+2 is 4, and the concept of addition, you can then answer 2+3.  Learning things like facts is deeply out of fashion, but without a broad base of facts that you understand and can apply, the rest of the taxonomy is meaningless.  The rest of the taxonomy is analysis, synthesis and evaluation. The levels do tend to blur together a bit, but analysis would be something like realizing 2+3 = 3+2. The order of addition doesn’t matter.  Synthesis takes multiple analyzed things and creates something new. It’s how you would go from addition to multiplication. But then evaluation at the very pinnacle would ask things like what am I multiplying and should I?  Running gain of function research on a virus in a Chinese lab to escape US laws is an amazing act of synthesis. It is a terrible act of evaluation. Somewhere you hope that your rulers are skilled at evaluation, which could also be known as wisdom.

Most of Catechism class is knowledge, comprehension and application. Do you know the 10 commandments? What do they mean? Can you apply them to your life directly?  There is a reason that we still half-heartedly attempt to memorize the catechism.  It gives everyone a foundation of what the Christian religion teaches. Because I do happen to believe that we are emotional elephants with little riders, catechism also tries to teach a bit about prayer.  Prayer is arming the rider or giving him some reins.  But I attempt to end catechism with a bit of those higher level skills.  Hopefully having a basic understanding of the religion you were baptized into, that your parents have attempted to hand onto you, can we look at other world religions in analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

If anyone went to college and was forced to take a comparative religions class, this is often the exercise that schools used to tear down a naïve faith.  Sometimes intentionally, sometimes just because that faith never matured beyond knowledge, comprehension and application.  Generations of students who had little depth in knowledge, comprehension and application would be lead through a project of analysis of all religion and fed an evaluation that they were all the same and all false. I run through it in catechism more as an inoculation.  You can do this and come to a much different evaluation.  Also as an invitation to a mature faith, opening a door that says you have only scratched the surface, and the making of a good theologian is life with reflection.

As my framework I use something original with Dr. Stephen Prothero. His primary categories for religions are: problem, solution, means of solution, exemplars, texts, and organization. So as an act of analysis answering this for Christianity should be easy for a confirmand.  Problem: Sin. Solution: Salvation. Means: Grace, Faith and works/love. (As Lutherans we dramatically downgrade works, but we have a tight distinction between justification and sanctification.) Exemplars: The saints. Texts: Bible, The Confessions (which for the students is the catechism.) Organization would be the various denominations or theological traditions. As a comparison Islam. Problem: Pride, Solution: submission, Means: 5 pillars of Islam, exemplars: Muhammed, texts: Quran, Hadith, Organization: Sunni, Shia.  When you introduce a second set you can do some evaluation, like asking the question what is the difference between saying the problem is sin and saying it is pride?

Over the years, as I’ve run this final exercise I’ve started to think of another religion.  We have all been catechized to some extent in a new dominant religion in the west. What does it say the problem is?  Not pride, certainly not sin.  I think it would assert the problem is intolerance. The solution is acceptance.  I’ve got my own synthesis of what the default religion of the US is. It has means, texts and is creating organization. But it’s an interesting exercise for understanding the world you live in and the mission of the church in it.  And then the deeper question is one of evaluation.   How does this new dominant religion compare to Christianity (or other world religions)?  For me I think its problem and solution are as oblivious of actual humans as Bloom’s Taxonomy not even thinking about emotions, but such things are the mediation of a mature faith.

Spiritual and Religious


Biblical Text: Luke 2:22-40
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the presentation of Jesus and the purification of Mary. It is a text deeply rooted in the religion of Israel. It is also with Simeon and Anna a text populated with the advent of the Holy Spirit. What the sermon does is look at what happens when we treat the Spirit and Religion as either/or instead of both/and. From Anderson Cooper and Gwenyth Paltrow to Anna/Simeon as models for the church.