A few years ago I had a discussion with a friend about how to present religion and/or spirituality to our young children. Neither of us was raised with any particular religious doctrines, but both in families that imparted strong morals. This conversation barely nibbled at the surface of what I consider to be intensely important stuff to define for myself and in turn present to my child, but that is not the topic of this post. At a minimum we agreed that exposure to the different religions of the world was a positive thing. Indeed, this practice would give our children the tools with which to make their own decisions and it would foster tolerance and open mindedness.
My friend thoughtfully followed this discussion up with the gift of a children's Bible, My First Read and Learn Bible, it is a board book designed for very young children. I appreciated it very much and certainly I must have read it many times to Nathan as a baby and young toddler. I admit, I often pay no attention whatsoever to what I am reading in those last minutes of parental duty at the end of the day. The book remains on Nathan's shelf and he chose it for the first time in a long while recently. This time I was paying attention, and my education commenced. We read the story of creation and then about Noah and all was well, even I knew these tales. And then came the story of Moses. Disney taught me to be wary of death and destruction designed for babes, so why I was aghast at this Babies Bible, I'm not entirely sure. I read a little ahead and changed the words a bit to be...what? More palatable? With less murder and abandonment? In my disbelief I didn't do a very effective job distracting him and he didn't stand for me simply turning the page in response to his questions about why Moses' mother would put him in a basket and send him down the river. Oh, because otherwise, he would have been killed...Seriously. The best I could come up with was she couldn't take care of him any more so she sent him to this other mommy who could take very good care of him. Huh? Nathan doesn't take the brush off very well and proceeded to turn the page back several times to more fully analyze the pictures that went along with the sorry job I did of changing the story. "And why in this picture the Mommy is crying and the baby is sleeping and happy when she pushes him away, and over here the baby is crying and the new mommy is so happy?" And who is the woman hiding in the bushes in both pictures stalking everyone?? Good lord, I knew I was disrespecting a lot of people's beliefs when I quelled his concerns by telling him, don't worry this is just a story, it's not true, and in any case I don't think it's a good story for kids.
He insisted we finish the book, and since my insecurities told me I was being ridiculous, I forged onward to David and Goliath. Excellent lessons to teach our children, fighting and killing in the name of god is well and good--brave even. Oh, but the coup de gras, the icing on top of the king's cake was the story of Daniel and the Lions. Are you familiar? Surely I must have skipped these pages in prior readings; how is this book still in my home? Censorship? I'm thinkin' yes; for now anyway. May I quote? Don't mind if I do. "The jealous men wanted to get rid of Daniel. They made him go into a pit with hungry lions." Seriously. I am not making this up. And the best part--I was so relieved; Daniel was spared by the hungry lions, and the wise among you know, it was his faith in God that saved him! Yes! These are just the lessons I want to indoctrinate my child with.
I find it disconcerting that the most inappropriate, violent book on my child's shelf is a Bible, a Baby Board Book Bible no less.
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit we may be a slightly hypersensitive. Shaun and I like to believe our sensitivities are in response to what is appropriate for our particular child, but we are open to the consideration that we may be a little nuts. Really though, do you know the opening line of Charlotte's Web is "Where's Papa going with that ax?" And even Beatrix Potter weaves a story around skinned and beheaded Flopsy Bunnies--it's downright disturbing I say.