Reviewing Adventures in Odyssey as an Atheist; Connie Comes to Town

In the series of Veggie Tales reviews that I just wrapped up, I sometimes agreed with the moral and sometimes didn’t, but overall I could respect the basic intent and approach of the show. Furthermore, over the years as I’ve detoxed from harmful ideas that my conservative Christian upbringing immersed me in, Veggie Tales doesn’t come to mind often as a bad influence. Mostly I think it taught me good lessons. I can’t say the same thing about an equally integral part of my childhood; Adventures in Odyssey. Jesus Christ, that show.

Adventures in Odyssey is a radio drama produced by Focus on the Family, an organization designed to fund and promote all of the icky conservative things, from abstinence only sex ed to conversion therapy. Its founder is James Dobson, who also founded the Family Research Council, the organization whose name is code for “the research says gay and straight families are equally good, but lets pretend that it says the opposite of that.” This isn’t shocking because Dobson really loves misrepresenting research. I could rant about Dobson is for ages, but instead I’ll link to this post by Sirius Bizinus, which goes into more of his terrible advice to straight spouses and parents. Trigger warning for the world’s worst solution to domestic abuse.

On to the review. Odyssey is a small Midwestern town where a kindly, wise old man named Whit teaches kids valuable life lessons about how awesome conservative Christian values are. He owns Whit’s End, which is, well, here’s how it went when I tried to describe it to a friend.

Me: So, its all very religion themed and has books and displays about the Bible, but its not a church. It’s a kid’s hangout with games and activities and things, but its also kind of a restaurant. At least, it has ice cream and pizza? You can just leave your kids there and they’ll hang out being all wholesome and Christian.

Friend: Sounds like a Chuck-E-Cheese for Jesus.

Me: …yeah okay, that’s exactly what it is.

The trouble with Adventures in Odyssey was how, unlike Veggie Tales, it was tinged with a jingoistic self-righteousness, even at the best of times. Its a very “what happened to the good old days?” show, and people are often understood to be bad simply because they wear the wrong kinds of clothes, listen to loud music, or even come from a big city.

A perfect example of this is “Connie Comes to Town,” the episode that introduced my favorite character. The official moral is supposedly about being content. With Odyssey, you never have to guess these things, because an annoying woman named Chris opens the episode with a lecture and closes it with a Bible verses to reassure us that its sufficiently Christian. For the record, I found her annoying long before I was an atheist. Her voice has that gratingly artificial cheerfulness to it. She opens this episode with that “grass is always greener” cliche, and closes by clarifying that while simply being positive is a step in the right direction, the real secret to contentment is serving Jesus Christ. So, how does the middle support this aphorism sandwich?

Whit is overwhelmed at Whit’s End. There are crowds of kids and no one but him to manage things. He tells his friend Tom Riley how hard it is to find good help. Apparently he’s a bit particular, which is why, when Connie Kendall walks off the street looking for directions to a completely different place she’s applying to, he hires her on the spot.

Connie’s parents just divorced, and she moved to Odyssey with her Mom. She’s trying to earn enough money to move herself back to Los Angeles and live with her Dad (her Mom doesn’t know this plan). Also, she’s  not very religious. All of that is enough to establish that she’s a soul in desperate need of saving. Not going to church every single Sunday is bad enough, but add a big city and a tragically broken home (nobody from a good wholesome place like Odyssey would ever consider divorce), and clearly she’s a walking cry for help.

We are also introduced to Bobby, a preteen who is bored with the small town where there’s nothing to do but the Bible Bowl, which is this epic game where Whit, um, asks people questions about the Bible. Whit is sympathetic towards Bobby, albeit in a vaguely patronizing “I know how it is for you young people” way. Dreaming of a world where the trivia nights dare to dabble in sports records and US history is clearly a foolish adolescent phase.

Of course, Bobby develops a passionate crush on either Connie, or possibly the very concept of LA. I think for him the two are pretty much inseparable. He decides to run away to LA with her, fantasizing about being the big strong boyfriend who protects her with all his twelve year old might.

Initially, Whit raises some valid concerns about Connie’s plan while also acknowledging that it’s her choice. But when Bobby tells Whit he plans to go with her, Whit flips out. Oh, and he doesn’t talk to Bobby, or even Bobby’s parents. The blame for all this is placed squarely on Connie. Nevermind that it wasn’t her idea. Nevermind that she wasn’t even aware of how serious he was. (Bobby offhandedly brought it up once and she changed the subject. She is genuinely shocked when Whit brings it up again.) Whit lectures her on how impressionable the kid is and how he has a crush on her, as if any of that is her fault.

When pointing out her absolute lack of knowledge or intention to encourage Bobby just motivates Whit to say things like this.

“Every time you come in contact with another human being, something happens. Neither one of you is ever quite the same again.”

“You can’t drift through life thinking you aren’t going to influence anybody. God made each and every one of us dependent on each other, and he wants us to feel some responsibility for one another.”

“What kind of world are we going to have if nobody cares about anybody else?”

All of which is completely irrelevant to the situation at stake. The issue is not that Connie doesn’t care for anybody but herself. The next couple of episodes establish just the opposite. The issue is that Whit is taking a situation outside of her control or knowledge and making it her responsibility. Finally, Connie asks for some concrete suggests about what the hell she should do. Cut to…

Connie leading the Bible Bowl. This fixes everything, because reasons. She decides that the only reason she wanted to go back to LA was that she missed her friends, but goshdarnit, there are some lovely people right here in Odyssey. And I guess without Connie to follow Bobby’s dreams of running away just evaporate, or whatever.

Whit is way out of line to place the blame for Bobby’s plan on Connie, or to demand that she change her plans for his sake. His concerns about her leaving in the first place aren’t necessarily wrong, but are oversimplified. The episode addresses none of the following issues.

  • Did Connie’s Mom have reason to believe her father was an unsuitable guardian? Later episodes say they split because he cheated on her. There’s no suggestion that he was otherwise abusive, unloving or unstable, and its weird that this episode doesn’t even bring that up.
  • Was Connie given any say in which parent she stays with? It doesn’t sound like she was, which is bad. Even a minor much younger than her (she’s implied to be sixteen or seventeen) would normally have been consulted. At her age, the move will affect her high school transcripts and options for college. She has valid reasons to stay beyond “I miss my friends.” This isn’t to say running away is a good solution, but she might feel like her needs are being ignored and this is her only option.
  • Is she sure her father is still living in the same place and has space for her? Does she have backup plans, like trustworthy friends she can stay with or money for a bus ticket back?
  • Has Connie thought of what she will do if something goes wrong on the trip itself? The episode makes a big deal about how dangerous the bus trip from Illinois to California is for a young woman (what, you were expecting this show to be sexism free?), but when she insists on going, nobody gives her advice on how to make it safer. Fear mongering is no substitute for suggesting she hide some extra money in her shoes.

Maybe LA is the best place for Connie. Or, maybe she did need to learn how to be content where she was and see what Odyssey has to offer, before running off and scaring the shit out of her Mom. Where are the discussions that empower her to make a better decision, rather than guilt-tripping her into complying with the opinions of the Designated Moral Guardian?

This is unfortunately typical of Adventures in Odyssey’s approach. Even when it advocates caring for others, it fails to take the real needs of a person into consideration, just as it advocates learning and discovery while reflexively rejecting anything that feels modern or worldly. Examples of the latter, and many, many other problematic messages, coming soon!

As always, thanks for reading.

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18 thoughts on “Reviewing Adventures in Odyssey as an Atheist; Connie Comes to Town

  1. I’m pretty covered in tattoos. My legs have all the superheroes, indie comics, Lone Ranger, Zorro, etc. And of course, being raised in a Christian household I had to put a small red button into my childhood collage. I’m thirty-three now and I will be perfectly honest; I’m fucking terrified to re listen to those things. Chris always annoyed me too, but I still listened to those shows even into adulthood. I have a nostalgia love for radio programs. But Jesus fuck, just reading your post reminds me of how utterly mind warping those shows really were. It’s no wonder it’s taken me so much to break free of the grip Christianity had on my mind when AIO was digging fundamentalism in deep for decades.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. Yeah, looking back at Odyssey in particular has given me some insight on my own personal issues. It is frustrating to have so much of my childhood hobbled to toxic messages like this.

      Also, your tattoos sound awesome. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t heard Adventures in Odyssey for a couple of decades now, but I do remember them. Your description of Whit’s End makes it sound creepy in a “he’s a registered sex offender somewhere” kind of way. Something about those shows unnerved me, because the way people interacted just didn’t seem real.

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  3. You should give the show some slack. That was literally the fourth episode that they made. Also, you make the show sound like it’s made by a bunch of stuck up Christians.

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    1. If the show improved much later on, I would have noted that. I do try to be fair when I’m reviewing a series that has technical issues beyond the creator’s control or that needs a little time to find it’s feet.

      Also, it is definitely made by stuck up Christians. There are a few upcoming episodes that I like and do give due credit, but if you’re looking for overwhelmingly positive comments, you won’t find them here. This show is mostly bland, occasionally good and a somewhat-more-frequent-occasionally terrible, both in writing and the morals they preach.

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      1. Every episode you review is a single episode pointed manly at a moral. Try a two, three, or even a twelve parter episode. Or if you are adventuress you could try the thirty part. The novacom soga.

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  4. Oh believe me, the Novacom Saga is coming up. It’s one of the last things I listened to, so I’m saving it for the end, but it will most definitely be reviewed in it’s entirety.

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  5. Honestly, I think Adventures in Odyssey is one of the best Christian audio drama in the world! It’s really unfortunate that you don’t appreciate their stories and what they teach us. I’ve learned many things because of AIO. Have you listened to the most recent AIO episodes like albums 51-62?

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    1. Well, thanks for reading even if you disagree with me. I haven’t listened to the most recent albums, because they weren’t in the massive box of episodes my Mom gave me. Focus on the Family actively attacks issues that matter to me, both ethically and personally. For example, they think me and my fiance should not have the right to adopt a child simply because we are both men. I am not giving them any of my money.

      They taught me some good things as well… and then they taught me to hate myself and others who were slightly different from me. I will be going into both, as well as why I think the bad overwhelms the good (in contrast to VeggieTales, where I think the good lessons easily overwhelmed their occasional missteps).

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      1. Could you provide a specific episode where they said to hate your self and others who are different from you? Thanks!

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      2. In my review of Promises, Promises, I explained how the doctrine of all having sinned and being filthy inside was damaging, and does not match up with my experience with actual human growth.

        In Nothing to Fear, I explained that they portrayed anxiety disorders in a way that lead people to misinterpret a medical condition as a sign of a lack of faith.

        In Emotional Baggage and The Boy Who Didn’t Go To Church, I explained how Whit’s techniques for teaching characters how to be good Christians are often manipulative. Whit is a character who kids are actively encouraged to idolize, and I have only scratched the surface of his controlling attitude. Later in life I and many other homeschooled Christians I knew had trouble recognizing abusive relationships. We are all still processing scars from people who who treated us badly, using the excuse of just trying to show us how to do the right thing, when really they had no idea what we actually needed. This will be a recurring theme.

        I have written twice about Bad Company. The entire point of that episode is to shun and distrust those whose perspectives don’t perfectly align with yours.

        This means half of the episodes I’ve reviewed had some message that was damaging in some way. Read them if you want more detailed information on how those morals were presented. In contrast, there has been one episode with a message about honesty. There has been one with a message about giving. There has been one with a message about unconditional love. Episode by episode, they loudly proclaim that they are teaching a good lesson today, but the messages they return to with the most consistency are that there is something wrong with you, and there is something even more wrong with anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into their insular Christian world.

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      3. I honestly don’t see it that way! You are saying that we should shun and distrust those whose perspective doesn’t perfectly align with ours. In Bad Company, the teachers teachings were (not a different perspective,) but false teaching! He said that Jesus is not the Son of God even though the Bible clearly says that he is.

        Quote by the teacher: “Jesus never pretended to be the Son of God.”

        The teacher used a false book instead of the true Word of God. I completely agree that we should completely stay away from these teachings.

        Thank you for reading and responding to my comments!

        Yours Truly, Victor

        >

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      4. Let me put it this way. Let’s assume that somewhere, in all the subsects of all the denominations of all the religions in the world, one of them has it all right. There are 7.125 billion people in this world. Only a third are Christian. Among those, there are are Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists, Greek Orthodox, Mormons, Methodists, Lutherans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostals… There are those who believe all denominations of Christianity are valid so long as a belief in Jesus is there. There are those who believe that to worship on the wrong day or to take communion the wrong way or use birth control is to put your soul at risk, no matter how fervently you believe in Jesus. In the United States, three out of ten Christians believe the Bible is literal, while the remainder believe it is inspired by God without always being completely literal. Even among those who believe the Bible is literal and infallible, there are disagreements about what it infallibly says. Even if you assume Christianity is true, there are a lot of denominations and subsects to choose from.

        Most people will live and die in the religion of their upbringing, whatever that is. Converts and deconverts like me are the strange ones. Think about the sheer volume of differences of opinions that are out there. Even if we assume someone is right, that leaves most people being wrong.

        Don’t you want everybody born outside of that true faith to examine themselves and listen to the perspectives of people who don’t agree with them, so they might be lead to the truth? But human nature causes everyone to assume they themselves were lucky enough to be born into that one true faith. Most of the 7.125 billion people on the planet will be wrong.

        How do you actually know that you’re in that one right faith, and not one of the billions who just assumes they are? Isn’t it worthwhile to listen to others, and prayerfully consider what they say? Isn’t it reasonable to leave yourself open to finding God, wherever he may be?

        The lesson of Bad Company was not that Mr. Grayson was wrong. Before Connie even goes to the Bible study, Whit is already warning her off. Then there’s ten seconds of Mr. Grayson speaking, another five of Connie summarizing him to Whit, and the rest of the discussion is just Whit repeatedly stating Mr. Grayson is wrong, and that by even listening Connie has endangered her soul. The lesson of Bad Company is to never seek truth outside of AIO’s one subsect of one denomination of one religion. Just trust them to know that they happen to be the one that got it right.

        I’m not even arguing that Mr. Grayson was right. I don’t agree with him any more than Whit. I’m arguing that this show doesn’t trust that people who seek truth earnestly will find it. It instead teaches isolation and control.

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  6. Things changed a lot in the late 90s when Paul Herlinger stepped into the role. Paul was a different kind of guy. He was more liberal and i feel there were things in script he would not have accepted. I used to love Hal Smith as a kid but as I got older I didn’t like his script… There was one episode where he spanked his grand son without consulting his daughter and some how his grandson, monty, was great with it…. he was like “no one has ever showed they cared like that” or something along those lines.. First, Mr. Whitaker stepped in to save the day and be a parent… which seemed to happen the most with kids of single moms… Like they can’t manage themselves. Second, a child who has never been spanked would be traumatized being hit by an adult he wasn’t very close to… Spanking is also largely noneffective.
    There are so many examples it the early episodes… but yes… Mr. Whitaker seems to be a person who cares but he loves to step in and be a parent, without parental permission. He also had many kids in his shop often times without enough people to watch them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow, I don’t think I ever heard that episode. I did notice that he didn’t overstep the boundaries quite so drastically in later episodes, though there were some episodes that still bothered me. I hadn’t noticed the connection with the change of actors; that’s really interesting.

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