Tuesday, January 02, 2007

dumbing down our kids

Every now and then my wife and I look for a good children's Bible to give to relatives or friends who we know will appreciate it and actually read it to their children at bedtime to familiarize them with the classic Bible stories that have lain at the foundation of our culture and faith for thousands of years.
It's not that easy, actually. A lot of children's Bibles emphasize good theology over good storytelling, which is odd when you consider that the authors of the Scripture had the opposite approach. Other times they'll couch things in familiar terms that are utterly ridiculous on their face, such as referring to the temple or the tabernacle as a "church," and to priests as pastors or ministers. And it can be embarrassing the way they avoid uncomfortable aspects of the stories and paint people in stark good-or-evil terms, like the way Joseph is depiocted as the righteous brother who tests his evil brothers to see if they've changed. (Yeah, like he wasn't planning to kill or humiliate them when God put their lives in his hands. All those threats and reversals weren't the product of a man struggling with bitterness and unresolved anger, they were just a "test.")
My own favorite children's Bible is one that has been out of print for thirty years, but that's beside the point. Hurlbut's Story of the Bible seems like it might be a good choice, except the editors have decided that children today are too stupid to understand all the big words. From the back cover, as quoted on Amazon:
This new edition, with a new name, new cover, and updated and simplified text for today's children, introduces a whole new generation to this timeless classic. From Genesis to Revelation, the 127 Bible stories retold come alive and are enhanced by 30 new, awe-inspiring color and black-and-white art pieces by Joel Spector. Printed in large and clear type, this more than 460-page book will keep young listeners spell-bound as it assists parents in the age-old custom of telling their children stories from the Bible.
Simplified text? Sheesh. So much for setting the bar high and encouraging children to reach for the stars. No wonder we're fostering a generation of cultural illiterates, if "classic" works have to be stripped down to pieces small enough for the parents to understand them.


Anonymous said...

Well, I don't know if this would live up to your standards, but I remember reading the hell out of (heh, sorry, couldn't resist that little bit of profanity) something called The Picture Bible. I don't even know if it still exists, but it was the Bible in comic book form. I'm going to assume that they left some things out... but I remember reading it over and over again until it fell apart.

Just a thought.

marauder said...

One of my kids in Children's Church ten or more years ago had a copy of The Picture Bible. I never read it, though; my only memory is her frustration at trying to turn to a specific chapter in the gospel of Luke and not being to find it because of the way the editors had streamlined everything into some form of chronological order.

When you get down to it, even if a quality children's Bible is a challenge to find, even a bad children's Bible is better than none at all. The exceptions to this rule include the WWJD Children's Bible, the "God Loves Me" Bible, and any children's Bible based on the Prayer of Jabez.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the Picture Bible isn't a regular Bible... you can't look things up at all. I have no idea what I'd think of it now, but it was interesting to me back in the day.

What's wrong with those ones you listed?

marauder said...

A friend of mine showed me the WWJD children's Bible someone had given his sons, a few years ago. While I think it's a good idea to encourage children to think about what Jesus would do and then act accordingly, I felt that the WWJD Bible took a rather facile attitude toward the question, and engendered an overly simplistic right/wrong attitude about the people in the Bible and why they did the things they did. If we get children to see Bible stories through a stark moral lens, I'm afraid we've robbed them of a very powerful way of understanding and relating to God, not just through Scripture, but through other works of art and the people they meet.

The WWJD Bible, as a result of its oft-repeated question, was essentially a Bible for giving children proper moral clarity. The problem is that Jesus came to bring freedom to the oppressed, hope to the weary, and life to the dead. He wasn't a moral teacher, nor was he a moralist. The WWJD Bible is both.

Let's say, for argument's sake, that we read the story of Ahab, and we asked WWJD in his case? Did Ahab do it? No; therefore, he is a bad man. Which he was, make no mistake -- but in viewing him simply as a bad man and not stopping to consider the larger story he was a part of, we miss the deeper spiritual lessons his story has to offer us about power, control, greed and even about who we marry. (One of the ironies is that Ahab appears to have considered himself a God-fearing man.)

The God Loves Me Bible is just insipid. It's 80 pages of pictures too saccharine even for Precious Moments, with lines like "God gave Abraham and Sarah a baby. God loved Abraham and Sarah. Abel offered God a sheep. God loved Abel." Bleagh.

And as for the Prayer of Jabez ... well, I have a low tolerance for anything that turns the Cross into a means for amassing wealth, influence or celebrity. Especially when it's as ubiquitous as PoJ was.