Teacheth Not Thy Childe The Bible

After the jump I prattle on about a topic only of interest to Christians -- and even then only some, not all. To entertain the rest of you I present this animated gif of Tex Avery's Droopy:

animated droopy hooray

I’m giving serious thought to the idea that we Christians shouldn’t be teaching the Bible to children under 12, particularly the Old Testament and the Epistles and Revelation in the New Testament.

The four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles are more than sufficient for most kids’ moral and spiritual instruction. Christ taught enough parables to give the kids plenty of stories they can easily follow, and his teaching of the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer encompass all the values we need as Christians.

Best of all, the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer and the Gospels can be presented in simple streamlined-for-kids fashion without doing injustice to the message they convey.

Not so with the Old Testament.

Almost all the children’s church versions of Old Testament tales present accountants that are often at odds with the actual message of those stories.

We present the story of Jonah as a man who was frightened and didn’t believe God would protect him so he ran away but then God had a great fish swallow him and after he prayed for three days God turned him loose so he could do what God had wanted him to do all along.

…er…not quite. The capper to the story of Jonah -- the sting at the end of the tale, so to speak -- is that after Jonah is saved, after God protects him not only from the great fish but the Ninevahites he was supposed to preach to, after he was wildly successful with his preaching, Jonah was still p.o.ed and angry at God!

That’s a great lesson for middle & high school students, not so for grade schoolers (and much less for kindergarteners).

It’s a confusing and complex tale, and it is more suited for ears that have some experience with the complexity and contradictions of the human heart than those seeking an easy A-to-B-to-C reassurance.

This is true of how we present virtually all Old Testament stories to children: Noah’s flood is presented as a happy / smiley event, Abraham trusts in God and never doubts Him much less hand his wife Sarah over to not one but two kings to marry because he is afraid they’ll kill him, Moses talks with God but suffers no full blown anxiety attacks or murderous rages, David’s victory over Goliath is celebrated but not his defeat with Bathsheba, Solomon is lauded for his wisdom while his stupidity regarding foreign gods is overlooked, etc., etc., and of course, etc.

A similar problem exists in teaching any history: Unless one picks an all-ages-safe era or event, teaching children under the age of 12 history consists of little more than getting them to associate a name with an incident and almost always in a positive manner.

We teach six year olds that Columbus was a brave man trying to discover a route to India when he stumbled across the Western Hemisphere.

We don’t teach that his response to the kindness and generosity the Arawak tribe showed him was to enslave and brutalize them to such a degree as to give a Waffen SS-Obersturmbannführer pause.[1] because that is not the lesson they need to be taught at that age.

The problem is, by whitewashing and glorifying people with very human shortcomings, and by eliminating all nuance in their stories, we create a disconnect in children between the hagiographies they gleefully learn at an early age, and the horrors they encounter later.[2]

As in history, so in the Bible.

Laying aside for the moment any argument as to how much of the Bible is historically factual or not, the bottom line is that by conscious choice we present it to children in a badly garbled form, and typically at an age when they can not fully process the information we are handing them.

As a result, the deeper meanings, the more profound lessons that would actually be of importance to a child as they grow into their teen and young adult years, later fall on ground hardened by deliberate misinformation.

All too often churches continue to teach infantile, simplistic versions of Bible stories to teens as well as young and more mature adults.

We either end up confusing them and frustrating them and giving them more than ample reason to abandon their faith, or even worse we lock them into a mindset that is actually counterproductive to processing the world around them.

The former is bad enough in that it shuts them out from a fuller, richer appreciation of the lessons to be found in the Bible, but the latter unleashes a plague of dunderheads on the world to wreak havoc with their gross misunderstanding.

I’m not arguing that young children shouldn’t be exposed to the core teachings of the Bible, the Beatitudes and Christ’s admonition that we love others as we love ourselves and treat others the way we wish to be treated.

Rather, I’m saying that we shouldn’t undermine their faith with simplistic, and incomplete lessons that they will only have to unlearn.

Put the Old Testament and the Epistles away until they have the basic knowledge to process it.




[1] And to those who would argue it was a different time, a different place, a different culture, and with different values, to you I say: Bull Shit. Bartolomé de las Casas was a contemporary of Columbus and Cortes who traveled to the Americas and soon became a very wealthy young man, owning many slaves and vast tracts of property following his participation in the invasion and conquest of Cuba. But La Casas was plagued by his Christian upbringing and soon came to realize he must give up all his wealth, land, and slaves in order to become a protector of the native people of the Americas. If he could come to this conclusion back in 1515, Columbus, Cortes, and the rest of the conquistadores have no excuse, and neither do those who defend them.

[2] Traditionally children re-enact the lives of famous people and historical incidents in their play. When such people and events are presented to them in a simplistic way, it only reinforces resistance against accepting ugly but important truths later on, which in turn as adults makes them more reluctant to reform no matter how straightforward the evidence or unshakeable the argument. As simple a game as cowboys & Indians lays the foundation for a mindset that makes all of their cultural myths virtuous by the fact they are representations of what they are most comfortable with and hence worthy of support and defense, as opposed to a foundation based on virtuous but non-historical myth and fantasy which will never be threatened by real life bloodstained feet of clay. In other words, fictitious heroes like Captain Kirk, Princess Leia, Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, or The Doctor more than adequately supply a younger child’s longing for a role model to emulate, providing a moral / ethical grounding that will not be undone or threatened by any real life sins, shortcomings, or atrocities.



Elmore Leonard: wot he sez...

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