Any atheist parent with religious relatives will have to figure out how to deal with the Bible story books their children will inevitably be given for birthdays and Christmas. This is something that’s been on my mind lately because a Noah’s Ark board book has suddenly become my young daughter’s favorite book.
Some atheist parents may just return Bible themed story books when their children receive them as gifts, and that’s fine, but I didn’t want to do that. Now I know I could just read them to her and not differentiate between them and any of the many other stories she reads, but I’m not sure she’s old enough to understand myth yet and I’m still, I think, a bit gunshy about the whole thing.
So I’ve taken a different tack altogether. I just change the books’ content. My daughter can’t read yet, after all. (Is this where I put an evil smiley?)
Now to be clear, there are a few books I’ve simply removed from my daughter’s bookshelf and hidden away, specifically the ones depicting the crucifixion or other disturbing scenes. You would be surprised how graphic some “children’s books” are. This is absolutely not okay with me. Most children’s Bible story books, though, are fairly sanitary.
This particular Noah’s Ark book does not show or even mention the large number of people who died anguished deaths in the flood. Instead, it focuses on lots of pictures of animals. I read it like this:
This man is Noah. He is building a big boat called an “Ark” so that all the animals can have a boat ride. Look, see how excited the animals are? They’re getting on the boat to have a boat ride. Now it’s starting to rain, and look at that, now the boat is in the water. Look how happy all the animals are! And there are the fish, swimming alongside the boat saying “hi!”
Now the boat has landed on a big hill, and all the animals are getting out. Wasn’t that a fun boat ride? Look, the boat ride was so fun that Noah and his family are clapping!
And there, in the sky, is a rainbow. We see rainbows in the sky after it rains, and see, there’s a rainbow in the book because it rained while the animals were on their boat ride.
My daughter loves it. She wants me to read it again and again. She recently found another Bible story book in her bookshelf, a nativity scene book, and brought it to me to read. As I took it, I knew I would probably have to be a bit more creative. Here’s how I handled it:
This woman is named Mary.
“What’s that?” my daughter interrupted, pointing at the angel hovering over Mary.
That is an angel. An angel is a person with wings that can fly like a bird. Do people have wings?
That’s right, people don’t have wings. Angels are just pretend, just in stories. Does that make sense?
“Yes. Now read!”
Okay, so anyway, the angel told Mary that she is going to have a baby. Look how excited Mary is! Now look, Mary and her husband Joseph are getting ready for their baby. They can’t wait to meet the new baby. When people have babies they paint rooms and buy clothes and toys and get ready, and that’s what Mary and Joseph are doing.
But look, now they have to go on a trip. Mary is riding on a donkey because they don’t have a car. See her big belly? She’s going to have a baby. Now it’s nighttime, and they have to find somewhere to sleep, but all the hotels are full! What will they do?
There, they found a barn and asked the animals if they could sleep there with them, and the animals said “yes.” Wasn’t that nice? That night Mary had her baby. See? There’s the baby, she’s holding it, and all the animals are looking. Mary and Joseph are so happy to have a new baby.
These angels are telling everyone that Mary had her baby, because everyone always gets excited when someone has a baby. Today, we call people on the phone to tell them when a baby is born, and people come to the hospital to see the baby. See look, now the people are coming to the barn to see the new baby.
And here, these old men, these grandpas, are coming to see the baby too. They’re riding on camels because they have no cars. Oh look! The grandpas brought presents for Mary and Joseph’s baby! Wasn’t that nice? People always bring presents when someone has a new baby.
Upon shutting the book, I was rewarded with the words every parent of young children comes to expect and secretly dread: “Read it again!” It seems my maverick book reading abilities are quite a success.