God is scarier than the boogeyman

I do not talk about my God questions with my children. I do not talk about my God questions in front of my children. We read them books of all kinds, they went to Vacation bible school and go to Sunday school every week and each Christmas we read them the Christmas story. I do not try to bias my kids against God.
So I was surprised a few months back when my oldest came up to me with her children’s illustrated bible and told me to give it away to someone else. I asked her why she wanted to give it away, and she told me that she “didn’t like that book because of the sad story where Jesus was killed by the mean people who gave him pokey owies” and she flipped to the story of the crucifixion to show me what she meant. This is a typical child’s bible we are talking about, so it has cartoon drawings. But the sight of Jesus bleeding on the cross was still too disturbing for her. So I reassured her that she did not have to look at that picture if she didn’t want too, and we put the bible up on a shelf.
The kids talked about it some, I could hear them pretending that a stuffed animal was Jesus dying on the cross, and sometimes I heard them talk about how Jesus came back to life. But I thought that was it.
A few weeks ago, Ms Action started crying every single night before bed. She insisted that she had “a bad dream stuck in her head”. I hugged her and tried to get her to talk about what the bad dream was. She told me she was afraid of those bad men that had killed Jesus on the cross. I told her that people don’t die on crosses anymore, and that Jesus had died on the cross a long time ago, and in a very far away place. This did not reassure her. She told me that Jesus could go anywhere, and if he came to Canada, those bad men might come too. And then the bad men might come into our house and kill her.
We talked about how dreams are not real, and how her parents are here to keep her safe. We talked about how the door is locked at night, and how there are policemen nearby if there ever was a problem. We talked about how when we are feeling sad or afraid, we can remember the people that love us, and the things that make us feel happy and safe and that will help us not think about scary things. It helped a little. But every night, she cried again, saying she was afraid of God, and we would talk about the same things all over again. Finally one night after over a week of terrified bedtimes, I asked her if she was afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? She said no, because he was only in stories, and he can’t come out of a story to hurt her. Then I told her that God was a story too, and he wasn’t going to come out of the story and hurt her. That made sense to her, and the nighttime terrors stopped.
Every night as it gets dark outside, she asks me if the front door is locked and she tell me to draw the blinds because she is afraid someone might be outside our window. But then she feels better, and can go to sleep happy.
This process has frustrated me so much. What could they possibly be teaching her at Sunday school? Because she didn’t learn these details of the crucifixion from me. I know that she never wants to go to Sunday school, but I kind of assumed that was because it was boring. This church is not a hellfire and brimstone type of place, the people teaching the classes are generally nice sweet people, maybe it’s just the stories themselves are just too much for her. I was angry with myself for making her go to Sunday school (even though she didn’t want to go) because she is the Pastor’s daughter and that is the expectation. Maybe I should have been talking about the stories with her, but I still can’t figure out how I could have headed off this fear, the story of the crucifixion IS scary and gruesome. 
I found myself grateful that we will be leaving ministry here before this church moves into their Easter time lessons, and that expectation of Sunday school attendance will be gone. I don’t want her to have to hear about the crucifixion again and again leading up to Good Friday, and be told that the reason Jesus died in such a terrible way was because of how bad she is.
Two weeks ago, I went to my ladies bible study and the kids went to their bible storytime. When we all got out, Ms Action came to me with tears in her eyes and told me she was scared. I asked why and she handed me her coloring page. She had learned about Abraham sacrificing Isaac. What kind of child’s curriculum teaches that story? How is a child supposed to understand a story about God telling a father to kill his own child when I as an adult can’t understand it? What am I even supposed to say to my sensitive 5 year old about this? I don’t know how to explain the Christian theory of salvation to a young child without God being terrifying. My daughter may be barely 5 years old, but she is not dumb. She has already drawn the connection between God’s anger and Jesus having to die a terrible death. 
My instinctive reaction to her fears given my upbringing was to perhaps pray with her, or tell her that God is watching over her and keeping her safe. But that wasn’t exactly logical since God is what she is afraid of. I’m starting to feel that much of religious education is really an adult topic, or at least for older children. Reading through the bible stories I heard again and again as a child, I wonder how parents justify the blatant violence and discrimination that is rampant throughout these stories to their children. Is a child really ready to hear and understand the bible?

  • Anna

    This is such a struggle for me too, even though my only child is still very young (just a little older than your youngest, I think). I want him to have a faith community but there is so much of the Bible and Christian doctrine that I don't even believe anymore and even more that I don't want him to have to hear about. I remember growing up in a fundamentalist church and hearing over and over the gruesome details of the crucifixion complete with lessons on the overhead projector. I would cry and cry about what happened and feel so guilty that I caused it. I don't believe in the doctrine of substitutiary atonement anymore and the last time I was in a church service that started in on the gruesome details of the crucifixion I just went and got some fresh air for a while. I just wish there was a way to pass on faith to my child(ren) without all the horrible stories that come with it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15824217102632813598 Tanit-Isis

    I didn't grow up hearing a lot of bible stories (mostly only at my grandparents') but I do remember being given an easter-story book one year when I was seven or eight. It was pretty horrifying. I didn't get what the gruesome story had to do with easter, which as far as I was concerned was eggs and bunnies and plenty of chocolate.

    My youngest has had periods of intense bed-time crying, too, although her bogeymen are usually aliens or monsters or something on TV that seemed harmless at the time. Often it has to do with stress in other areas of life getting, though—your daughter may be displacing anxiety about the move into other areas. Which doesn't make those bogeymen any less distressing for her, or you.

    @ Anna—you sound like a lot of the Unitarian Universalists of my acquaintance. :)

  • Cici

    I have always wondered that myself. Some of the pictures are creepy and completely go against the whole loving God idea. Also I wanted to say congratulations on moving and the new adventure you are embarking on. I will think good thoughts for you even tho I know you will be successful. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06401440551873070129 Elin

    I remember hearing bible stories as a child and loving the ones which were violent and gruesome. I could totally relate to Cain killing his brother (my brother was a pest too), I loved hearing the story about the baby which should be cut into two halves and was relieved that the real mother came forward but secretly I would have liked to know exactly would half a baby would look like. It was similar with other scary stories from OT, I always chose the scary ones.

    I did find the cruxifiction scary scary because I liked Jesus but it was never really traumatic to me. I don't think I understood the sacrifice at all as a child so he just got killed to me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08135229596877003069 Michelle

    Once again, I see such a different experience from my own here. I am sorry your kids are fearful, that's sad. While the crucifixion is scary to think about, I remember as a kid that the physical aspect was always portrayed in the abstract. It wasn't until 8th grade that a very direct portrayal of the torture and suffering of our Lord's passion was presented (and even then…it was not so scary as some others I have been exposed to, since. and that is sad that she may have been given the impression that he died because "she is bad". I think that is inaccurate and cruel for little kids!

    You know, even as an adult it is difficult to think about the crucifixion for me. Our priest has given a couple of homilies, though, elaborating on how the crucifixion is the ultimate act of love. It doesn't make it easier to think about, but gives it a context where I can lay my sins at the feet of Jesus so to speak, and ask Him to help me love more like Him. Our sins are – ultimately – a lack of love, and if we love more like Jesus, we do less of it (at least in my experience and faith background).

    But…a kid has limited understanding. Sounds like putting too much too fast on your daughter is backfiring a little bit. I will be interested to see where your new adventure leads.

  • http://bundesbedenkentraeger.wordpress.com/ bundesbedenkentraeger

    I do not remember when I heard of crucifiction the first time, or the binding of Isaac. But I do think it must have been pretty early, because they belong to the stories I've known "ever since". But I wonder if I was told about it the same way.
    There was certainly no stress on the "Jesus died for my sins" part. I guess we were just told the the Romans crucified him and that he rose on Easter from the dead.
    There was certainly no connection to God-father made at that point. For me it made never any sense that God-father would "murder" God-son anyway (and there exists other theology definately).
    And I guess about the binding of Isaac, the stress was only, that God wanted to test Abraham and we all knew (the children that is) that God would never really let Abraham kill his own son.
    So maybe the hellfire and brimstone part isn't the worst about such a theology, but the ideas behind it that would go well without all that flames…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06628206579067878095 Sarah

    As a child, I was very shy and sensitive, so Jesus' death terrified me. I would run past the big crucifix in my church narthex and look the other direction. I would get sick to my stomach whenever "Jesus of Nazareth" came on TV at Eastertime.
    My little brother, on the other hand, loved the intensity and challenge of it. I distinctly remember when he about 4 and reading some kid's Bible book with cartoony illustrations. "Do you wanna see the page with the whips?" he said eagerly. I yelled "NO NO NO!" and pushed the book away. I don't want to paint broad gender stereotypes here, but I do think boys and girls tend to understand physical suffering in different ways. Just look at how violent some fairy tales and adventure stories are.

    I finally resolved my fears around age 12, as I gradually realized that we Catholics hang crucifixes not to be morbid, but to remind us of Jesus' love.

    Maybe you could emphasize to your daughter how Jesus got "all better" in the end when he rose, or how he bravely faced the bad men so she wouldn't have to. Remind her that Jesus died for ALL the bad things in the world – it isn't just her fault. There stories of women who were kind to Jesus also comforted me as a kid, like Veronica wiping his face. The upside of sensitivity to suffering is compassion for others.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01659200420621854710 Maggie

    Yeah, it sounds like maybe her Sunday School is going a little deeper into theology than a child should be experiencing. But your daughter sure sounds like she is smart… she's definitely listening and knows the stories, I just don't think she's quite old enough to understand it deeper. Hell, it's hard for us as adults to understand it deeper. I know some children are very sensitive to what is going on around them, so these Bible stories might have an impact.

    I never went to Church really as a child, so I don't remember what my reactions to the Crucifixion were. I rarely paid attention to anything!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09586721197750246060 Lara

    I'm totally with you. There is so much I don't understand at this point in my adult hood. How in the world am I supposed to explain it to my kids. So far I've taught my kids to pray in the evenings and we say "thank you" for all the good things in our lives and we ask for help in areas we need help. I've told them we are Christians because we believe that what Jesus taught was right. We believe him and we follow his ways. There hasn't been much issue with Sunday school, but I am worried about it. My daughter isn't very sensitive and she can ignore things that don't make sense to her, but my son will be another issue. He'll be starting Sunday school in April.

  • Anonymous

    I've always wondered this. My daughter did a class that was in a religious school and saw all sorts of nasty things there. It's stuff that is just not appropriate for children IMO. If you wouldn't show them a movie with torture in it, why have images of torture where they can see?

    I do wonder, though, why you (outside of the expectations of your family because of your husband's job, of course) feel like you should teach your children to be christians? Do you feel the same drive to teach them the tenets of Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism? It's something I hear often and it mystifies me. A five year old isn't capable of looking at all religions and deciding which one is true, if they're told by you that this is true they'll accept it as true.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12673376586692323827 Kayla

    For a while my sister Madyson would daily ask my mother if she (madyson) was going to die on a cross one day like Jesus. It was upsetting to both her and my mom, but I like the way my mom handled it. She asked Mady to explain why Jesus died on the Cross. Not who did it or how, but why. And instead of focusing on our sins, she explained that Jesus loved us so much that he was willing to die so that one day our souls would be with Him in heaven. It made sense to Mady, and as far as I know she isn't scared of dying on a cross anymore (she's in 1st grade right now). Maybe focusing on how Jesus is God and how God has to go to great lengths, farther than any person would ever have to go to save us because of his Love for us, would be helpful?

  • Beth

    The Abraham/Isaac story just takes the cake for me. It is complete insanity to give a child coloring pages of this story. I tell my kids that God does not tell parents to sacrifice their kids and some of the old testament stories are nuts. It is so bizarre that we would want our kids to attempt to understand this when we do not even understand as adults. When God tells you to sacrifice your child I call that psychosis.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Anna- Yes, I remember crying and feeling guilty too. I also question the doctrine of substitutiary atonement. I've left the room during a sermon before, but my major trigger is the evangelical teachings on marriage and gender roles. Literally want to start crying (or screaming) when I hear it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Tanit-Isis- Yes, I realize that this is a normal stage of childhood, dealing with fear. I guess I just wasn't expecting it to take this form.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Cici- Thank you! We are excited too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Elin- Exactly, how can kids really get all the context of that type of doctrine? We read all the stories when I was a kid, Aarons sons getting fried because they didn't please God, The concubine in judges getting raped and cut into 12 pieces, God killing David and Bathsheba's firstborn because of their sin, Annanias and Saphirra falling dead because of greed… I wonder how much of it I fully grasped at the time. Also, I think that christians have more of an issue with sex than they do with violence. We never spoke about sex at all, and I had to leave the room if a romantic couple in a movie did more than kiss. But I was allowed to watch graphically violent war and action movies with my parents without any censoring from like age 12 and up.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Michelle- It is hard to think about. I have never watched "The passion of the christ" because I knew I would have the scenes seared in my fairly photographic memory forever.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Bundes- I'm sure the emphasis in the story of the sacrifice of Issaac has always been on the "God was only testing abraham to see if he really loved him", I do remember feeling somewhat despaired when I realized that God wanted us to love him more than anyone, I prayed that a time would never come where my parents would have to choose between me and God, and I always felt guilty for feeling as though I couldn't choose God ahead of those I love.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Thanks Sarah- I love hearing from other peoples memories of this type of experience. Helps to understand whats going on in her head a little better. And I hear you on differences in children, my second daughter shows no signs of fear surrounding these stories.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Maggie- She is so smart! Sometimes I can hardly believe how much she understands about everything going on around her!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Lara- Yes, so much to explain that even I don't understand. I remember as a child I thought that sunday school was for sissies, because I was never allowed to attend, I had to sit with the adults. I was always under the impression that the kids just did a little craft and had a snack, but they really are trying to teach complex concepts as well, and each kid seems to handle it differently.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Anonymous- Good point. I hope that my kids will learn about all religions, but the reason they are in sunday school right now is connected to my husband's job. Honestly I'm kind of glad to be leaving ministry so we can make the choice that is best for our child instead of having to "lead".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Kayla- Nice to hear how your mom handled it. It seems like a pretty natural question for kids to have.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Beth- Me too! I could hardly believe it when I saw the sheet. I would have never imagined that story as part of a sunday school curriculum. And yes, I call it psychosis as well. It makes me want to explain how abraham was really just nuts and God stepped in to stop him from killing his son because God had never wanted that in the first place!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17825458003284098965 Scott Morizot

    Ah, the night terror years. They were probably worst with my older son, but then he was recovering from the trauma of actual abuse by his mother which intensified all sorts of fear reactions. PTSD will do that. At one point I bought him a blue light bulb for the night lamp by his bed and told him a story about the way the blue light was forming a shield around his bed to keep the bad things out. He had me repeat that story a number of times, so I think it helped him.

    Younger son developed an attachment to a stuff bear and would use that to soothe anxiety. Youngest daughter filled her bed dolls and stuffed animals, some larger than her. So she never felt like she was facing the fears of night alone, but was instead surrounded by friends.

    I've noticed there's something bizarre about the typical evangelical approach toward children raised in the faith. From the time they are little you teach them that Jesus loves them and you teach them to love Jesus. Then somewhere along the way, you flip the story and you tell them God is angry with them about the bad things they've done and they need to tell Jesus they are sorry and that they love him. But they've always loved Jesus! That's the way they were raised. And it has to be disconcerting to the child.

    Our youngest daughter is the only one raised from birth as a Christian (since we became a Christian family). She has also had what is to me an amazing sensitivity to God and love for Jesus that has been as natural to her as breathing for her whole life. And that's been a love that has spilled over into love and concern for others. (Sometimes we worry that she empathizes too much with others who are suffering, but that's a different issue.) I refused to inflict that on her, even when I was still figuring out what I believed. I told her that of course Jesus/God loved her. And as she got older, she just needed to keep loving Jesus more and more.

    Of course, penal substitutionary atonement theory is twisted. It basically makes God the one inflicting punishment on Jesus on the cross. The cross is a horrible story, but it's the story of God joining us in everything we suffer, proclaiming love and a kingdom ruled by love opposing the powers, and getting what people who stand up to the powers get from them. Then you peel back the layers and find the deeper story (deeper magic from Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — my daughter loved me reading that book to her when she was five) of God joining us even in death to break death's grip on us.

    By and large, from a Christian perspective, I would say the OT stories are too much to expect a child to understand. We read the OT in the light of Christ. The Abraham and Isaac story, for instance, actually shows that unlike other gods, our God does not require human sacrifice. Another sacrifice is provided instead. But it is the type of the Father sending his Son on a rescue mission knowing there would be no substitute provided for him. And we see in the willingness of both Abraham and Isaac (remember Abraham was old and Isaac was a strong young man of perhaps twenty or so at the time — there's no coercion or force involved in the story) a deep trust of God and through that trust a foreshadowing of the Resurrection. As we see clearly stated in Hebrews, Abraham believed that if necessary God would raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill his promise to them.

    But that's beyond anything a young child is prepared to understand. Heck, it took me a long time to begin to see it myself. I still don't have a clue how to read much of the OT and see Christ in it, though I'm slowly learning.

    But a God who is angry with you and who, in his anger, even killed his own son, is a boogeyman. Some children will perceive it and some won't — depending on the sensitivity of the child and the way they make connections. But the ones who do are actually the ones who have correctly understood what they are being told, I think.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05474535975093833773 Dominika

    Melissa – just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your blog and how much I admire your strength and maturity. To be able to come to the sorts of insights and explorations at such a young age and with four children – well, all I have to say is that you have a lot to offer the world. You have a unique drive for truth, and that is so rare. I hope you keep up your blog and your thoughtfulness here.

    As for those brutal OT stories for children… While I agree that some of them seem totally inappropriate for children, children have, in ages past, had to face the brutal, murderous realities of life in their actual, personal lives, and I suspect the stories told attempted to make a narrative about such realities.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15377583333000789903 Mrs. Anna T

    Well, obviously as a Jew I don't perceive the crucifixion story the same way you do, but I can only hope they aren't telling those little kids that death on the cross was popular Roman torture, and that You-Know-Who was far from the only one who died that way.

  • Anonymous

    Sounds like the kindest thing to do would be to say "honey, it's just a story, it's just a nice legend, like santa clause or the tooth fairy. Just dont spoil it for people who do still believe"

    Unless she believes in santa and the tooth fairy, in which case, my advice would probabaly traumatise her more than sadistic gods would….

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I thought it was probably expected that they go. How much longer until you move?

    I read a blogger who lives in the twin cities, she's hilarious: julia.typepad.com

    I need a name for your blog, how about Sarah?

  • Anonymous

    This is one of the reasons I don't take my children to church. Yes, there are times children have to deal with traumatic events, but I won't be the one to force that onto them. They don't watch most Disney movies for the same reason – their choice; they say it's scary so we turn it off. I don't want to put that violence into their heads and convince them it's all ok because it's from God or even because it's just pretend. They'll have enough of their own fears to overcome without extras from me or from church.

  • B

    Due to my parents' divorce and their differing religions, my mother gave me a book in kindergarten that was a sort of mini-encyclopedia of world religions for kids. I remember I studied it quite carefully and wrestled a lot with the differences between religions. I came to the conclusion that everyone would end up in whichever "heaven" they believed in. That's not the theology I hold to as an adult, but it demonstrates that 5 year olds are able to have some fairly sophisticated thoughts on religious matters.

  • http://foreverinhell.com Personal Failure

    i was terrified for years as a child that the devil could hear my every mean thought and was coming to get me AT ANY MOMENT. literally, i often could not sleep for fear that the devil was coming to get me. i spent days frantically trying not to think any thought that would mean the devil would have my soul, and it never worked.

    i still slip into that kind of thinking sometimes, i'm 36 and have been an atheist since age 19.

    there are all kinds of subjects in the bible- incest, genocide, rape, infanticide, murder- that no one would ever accept in any children's entertainment, but hey it's fine in church! just blows my mind.

  • Anonymous

    I've been reading about your journey for some time. You are a good writer and I hope that the work you find outside the home is able to use this talent of yours and I hope that you are able continue to blog as you leave the ministry and move on to another life. If not, let me give you my good wishes for your family right now. Living in a world where you have to decide the rules and limits is harder in some ways compared to having the limits thrust upon you by religion but it is richer and more interesting. I hope your family continues to have an interesting and rich journey! Good Luck!

  • herewegokids7

    Recent ex-fundie here, preparing to become Catholic. Only since stepping away from my assumed belief system, did I begin to notice these types of issues. I do have to agree that so much of what we pass on to our kids is foolish and harmful, and unthinking. The story of Noah's ark, for example? Cutesie animal pairs, Mr. and Mrs. Noah…wait, everyone else is out there drowned. Some kids are just more perceptive than others. If anyone's interested, I thought this was a great article on penal substitutionary atonement and the alternatives. He starts out discussing sola fide but he gets to it eventually. http://catholicnick.blogspot.com/2010/10/justification-by-faith-alone-debate.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18001793129770024351 Thirtysomething Wife

    When my son was 4, he became very upset one day about the story of Noah's ark. He was so upset because God drowned all of the other people and animals. Nothing I said could calm him down. I think that adults sometimes forget how scary even the most "simple" Bible stories can be to a child.

    My husband and I have compared the way we learned about the story of Jesus and the crucifixion. In my husband's case, there was more emphasis on the PEOPLE who crucified Christ and the evilness of the people. In my case, the emphasis was on Jesus's plan for us and his love for us. I think it gave us both a very different perception of God.

  • Cate

    Yeah, I don't want my daughter learning the stories of Isaac, Noah, and the crucifixion until she is much, much older.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10329947206142706470 Peter and Nancy

    After having a professor at a secular university teach about Genesis and Job, I totally agreed that the Old Testament was a bloody mess, and God was arbitrary and violent. I totally agreed with her at that point. But after becoming a Christian myself, I heard a teaching about the Abraham and Isaac story that helped me interpret it a little differently — the pastor talked about the foreshadowing of God sacrificing his own son for us (and Jesus being a willing participant). Having the same storyline play out with a human father and son made it so much easier to understand the heart of God, and his pain for his son's suffering. It's still a very difficult story, and a test I'm sure I would've flunked royally had I been Abraham.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02979828437531268794 Rebecca in ID

    Echoing a lot of what's already been said here, but age-appropriateness is key. Have you ever heard of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd? It is a Montessori-inspired way of teaching children which takes their age and sensitivities deeply into account. They meditate on certain truths through little figures, etc., such as the story of the Good Shepherd who watches over his sheep. They don't even discuss the "wolf" until the child is a bit older. No gory details or upsetting stories from Scripture. Yes, they will hear the story of the crucifixion in Church and so on but when I discuss things with my children, read to them, pray with them, I emphasize the things they can relate to. Certainly it is not helpful to bring personal sin into the crucifixion as though a small child's sins contributed to that–young children are completely innocent and Christ reminded us of that a few times without mincing words. If you tell a young child that their "sins" killed Jesus, they will be totally confused about what sin is! They cannot understand serious sin at that age because it has nothing to do with them. When they do ask me about it, I emphasize that Jesus conquered death–he came alive again, in order to conquer death for all of us. There are many other aspects–the love of laying down one's life for a friend, how he forgave his enemies even while they were treating him so badly. But–the resurrection. Jesus was hurt but he knew he would come alive again! The story of Mary Magdalene, thinking he was the gardener, so beautiful! And how John outran the other disciples. "Ye Sons and Daughters" is one of my kids' favorite hymns, which tells the whole story in a beautiful way. I will pray for your peace and your children's peace, and I say trust your instincts about what should be emphasized and dwelt on with young children. Certainly there are parts of Scripture which are completely inappropriate even for older children.

  • Anonymous

    Well you have to expect something like this – religion is a manifestation of humanity and as such, it reflects humanity. All major religions, excluding the extremes and minorities such as satanism and such, have the same core value system. This core value system is the same that all men and women are born with. However, there is always struggle involved in achieving this and – especially in the era in which the Bible was first created – it was especially violent.

    If you're worried about your children being effected by the violent nature and turbulent ideals from which religious documents are forged, perhaps excluding religion, and teaching instead the core values that are evident throughout mankind, might be the preferred option.

  • Musical Atheist

    In their innocence, children can be shrewd. They look at torture and execution and see frightening wickedness. They look at an innocent man being executed and see injustice. It takes an adult mind to look at the same terrible things and see beautiful redemptive grace. I think we can learn a lot from children's responses. They also see the inconsistency between the values of love and ethical behaviour that we try to teach them and the appalling immorality in the stories that we insist on using to teach these values.

  • Musical Atheist

    On a practical note, how do you intend to protect her from this for the remaining time before you and your husband leave? Do you think you could get away with removing her from Sunday School for the remaining time on the grounds that the stories selected are not age appropriate and are causing her distress? Could you just say that she's too young to cope with the level at which they teachers are working? Is this even something that the pastor's wife could legitimately interest herself in reforming, encouraging the use of gentler stories only?

    I guess the problem is how few of them there are. I was brought up in a non-religious household, but we had Christian assemblies and lessons at my school, since England is nominally a Christian country still. I was protected from feeling severe distress at stories like Noah's Ark, because I was not taught in the home to believe it was true, but I still felt outrage at the injustice. Bible stories stand out from the other stories children are told because of their consistent reversal of the normal values of kindness and fairness that our parents try to teach us.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10329947206142706470 Peter and Nancy

    I agree completely that we should wait until children are old enough to understand Bible stories, just as we wait until they are old enough for certain types of books, movies, etc. My oldest two are 9 and 11, and we started reading through the "real" (as opposed to a children's) Bible at their request 2 years ago — and we definitely skip over material that is just too much for them. When I looked for a children's Bible, two of my criteria were the treatment of particular stories, and the quality and ethnic representation of the illustrations (no pale, blue-eyed Jesus, thanks). We found a good one, that handled sensitive topics very well, with lots of cutural explanations along the way . . . and we still edited that when we read it aloud. It is an excellent piece of children's literature (retold by Murry Watts and illustrated by Helen Cann), but we glossed over some topics until our kids were older. Thankfully, the church we attend seems has done a good job of presenting things in an age-appropriate fashion.

    That said, I don't think we should create false ideas about the world for our kids. They will encounter tragedy and death in their lives, and at tender ages — and story and history, faith and the idea of eternity are all ways we "practice" for times of sorrow, joy, love, grief . . . So I do allow my kids to read books in which people die or betray others (Charlotte's Web comes to mind), even though they're sad and could cause distress for my sensitive kids. But their redemptive qualities and the conversations we have are so valuable — and Charlotte's sacrificial love and death help pave the way for understanding about Christ's life and death.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12557248434888642114 Melanie B

    I have worried about how to introduce the more violent and horrible aspects of faith to my children. Even though I have never had anything but a deep certainty that God is love, I have heard stories of people who were traumatized by stories of the crucifixion and I want my children to have only positive associations with their faith. When they are too young they do need to be shielded somewhat from the harsher parts of the story. And some children are definitely more sensitive than others.

    Since we are Catholic we have crucifixes in our church and I have chosen to hang crucifixes in every room in our home. But the crucifixes I have chosen for my children are replicas of the San Damiano crucifix, which I think is a very gentle image. I have always pointed to the cross and told them that Jesus loves them.

    How hard it must be for you to struggle not only with your own doubts and fears but to see how those doubts and fears are echoed by your children. I think that those stories don't have to be scary, if you can reassure children that God loves them unconditionally. But where you are in your own struggles, that is precisely the kind of reassurance you can't honestly give to them. Given that, I think your instinct to throw away the Bible and pull them out of Sunday school and not tell them the stories until both you and they are really ready for them. I second the suggestion that an earlier commenter gave about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which respects what children are able to understand and absorb and doesn't push them to read Bible stories that they aren't ready to grapple with.

    When presented in the right context, I don't think the story of Abraham and Isaac has to be terrifying to a young child. My five year-old can recount it and while she doesn't fully understand it she does trust that God loves Abraham and Isaac and she knows that God provided the sheep so that Abraham didn't have to sacrifice his son. I also point out to her that Jesus, God's son, is also a lamb that God sacrifices on our behalf so that we don't have to die. But I do recognize that not all children her age are ready to try to understand those stories. It's really a call a parent should make and I don't think it's a good idea for a Sunday school to jump into things that some children might not be ready for.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15454965172669677301 Bethany

    I remember a specific moment when a well-meaning couple from church gave my baby daughter a book about Noah's ark. It was bright and colorful with plenty of cute animals, but it struck me like an anvil to the chest that we were treating the worst genocide in world history as a children's story. It made me sick. The Old Testament was required daily reading in our home when I was a child, and I had nightmares about God too. Surprisingly, praying to the violent and vindictive image in my head never made them go away.

    I can now find life and light in the Bible that I never saw before when I was mired in my family's mindset, but I still would never consider the Bible appropriate reading material for young children. It is far too heavy, violent, and complex. One way my husband and I have worked around that since having children is reading Sally Lloyd-Jones's Jesus Storybook Bible. It is beautifully written around the central theme of Jesus and presents the stories very gently. I sometimes argue under my breath as my husband reads it aloud, but my girls are hearing these stories anyway in Sunday School, and they'll get a much better perspective on them from this book than they will from me. One day, I hope I will be able to grasp that perspective too.

  • Anonymous

    I am a recovering preacher's kid and have struggled with how to approach religion with my child. We, too, have a children's bible and the Abraham story was completely inappropriate–I was aghast. I never want to teach my child that it's okay to play power games like that with someone, what a disturbing story.

    We go to church, but I have a lot of issues with the theology and we haven't even broached the crucifixation yet. For now, I've stopped reading the bible to my girl–except for one rather cute book from my childhood on the creation of the earth (and even in that one, God is depicted spanking his angels, which I edit out).


  • Anonymous

    Are you OK? Just busy getting ready to move?


  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12230627343407777031 Zarina

    hello! First time commentor, long time reader!
    I feel for Ms Action. When I was her age, I remember a coloring book that included the Noah story, including one image of the ark floating around happily in the background. In the foreground, horses were despereatly trying to swim and keep their heads above water, eyes rolled back, tounges hanging out of their mouths. A human mother treaded water, taking her last gasp, sea foam bubbeling out of her mouth, holding her distraught infant aloft. It hit me then, that baby is going to die. All the babies and moms are dying. And the teacher wants me to sit nicely and color the drowing mother and wailng infant with pretty colors. Yeahhhhh…much like Ms Action I also "suddenly" didn't want to go to Sunday School. :( I feel for you, your kids, and am cheering you on in your struggle to keep finding you!

  • http://articles.earthlingshandbook.org ‘Becca

    My son is 7 and has always attended adult church instead of Sunday School. It's been his choice, but one of the things I like about having him with me is that if he is disturbed by anything, I was there and know exactly what was read or said.

    I told him about the crucifixion when he was almost 3. We talked about it several times a week for a while. He was not terribly upset, but he did want to know "why" on various levels. I told him that Jesus lived a human, earthly life but also knew that it was not the only kind of life. He died and rose to show us that death is not the end. He and God allowed people to murder him in this very unfair way–even allowed people who didn't want it to happen to get talked into cooperating–to start a story so important we remember it 2,000 years later, a story that demonstrates how very bad people can be but also shows that God is stronger than any human sin. Crucifixion was horrible suffering for Jesus, but he knew it was only temporary, only one day out of his earthly life, which was itself only a tiny moment in eternity. Here's some more about how I understand the role of our physical bodies.

    Many of the Old Testament stories puzzle my son and me because God seems like such a capricious jerk. The best I can come up with is that maybe God has changed his approach as the human race matured.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04494861496273308643 babies

    plese excuse my english, it is not my mother-tongue

    like musical atheist i come from a non-religious family and not once attended sunday school. so i would expect to be shielded from distress of biblical stories, and yet i have felt horror from the age of nine when i read the bible on my own for the first time and as i read it today i feel it still. even though in my opinion the bible is just another book. so here i am browsing and reading all sorts of cristiantiy related blogs to understand god, bible, faith, religion and it escapes me. some stories are incomprehensible today – what am i to do with abraham and isaac? a parent sacrifising his son today would be thought monstruous and insane. i hear it is a metaphore to love god and not just his earthly gifts, telling us to sacrifice our owner's pride. and yet we don't own our children. and what is more, how can a sacrifice of, say, our position or some other earthly goods compare to killing our children? if that story is a methaphore, it is a very clumsy one.

    one of my questions about children and bible-reading is whether the bible with its terrible stories speaks about reality… or does it dictate reality. one look at history and geography tells me i have had luck beyond comprehension to be be born in europe (or n america) in 1984 or thereabouts. how much freedom we have here and now! we can do exactly as we please. be truly truly good. and yet so few choose to live freely. return to abraham and isaac, how my atheist side explains it: it tells us it is appropriate to sacrifice our children. not to kill them, but to shape them according to our will. who do we feel bad for in that story, abraham or isaac? whose pain do we share? for myself i answer: abaraham's. so the story is turned around, although isaac is supposed to be the victim, the real sufferer in our eyes becomes abraham and thus enables us to feel entitled to sacrifice our children again and again. we feel abraham's grief so we think we suffer and are sacrificed in the process while truly are children are.
    that's how i read thet story, anyway.

    anyway, about my parents shielding me form religion: when i found out about christian beliefs that most people around me shared and my parents chose not to reveal to me, i felt betrayed because they have kept me in the dark, but my brother and sister are glad of their ignorance (or innocence). so i guess there is no good answer, kids can react so differently.

  • Anonymous

    In the East we don't have that sense of a vengeful God sending Jesus to the cross to appease him, or even Jesus going willingly to be slaughtered in our place. Everything is all about conquering death (we sing at Easter – Christ is risen from the dead, by death he conquered death and to those in the graves he granted life). In our theology there is NO POINT to the crucifixion without the resurrection. We don't have (or understand) stations of the cross the way western Christians do because at least most versions don't contain the resurrection. A mother in my church likes to tell the story of her young son seeing a crucifix (we don't really have them so prominently in our churches, icons instead) and being completely unfazed by it saying – "yes he died, but on the third day he rose again!"
    In Eastern theology ancestral sin introduced death and sickness (not guilt, though) to the world, but Christ conquered death so that we might become like God. Christ died so he could conquer hell and free the enslaved. He came to defeat Satan and death, and he accomplished just that. Even on Great (Good) Friday in the East we sing Alleluia because we bury Christ (our Great Friday service) so that he might open the gates of Hell.
    Everything surrouding his death is focused on his victory – I think this makes it a little easier for kids to handle.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18261932798380141520 Latebloomer

    I found your blog through NLQ and have read many of your posts. Thank you so much for being willing to share about your personal journey, especially your thoughts on parenting after coming out of a very authoritarian religious family. My husband and I are struggling with some of these same issues. We have already decided to follow gentle parenting techniques instead of strict spanking, and we are now wondering what to do about religion for our baby, especially considering our own discomfort with church and its cultural trappings. I hope you'll continue to post on these topics!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00911269487953748146 Julie

    This is what you get for following a mythology: you have to take the "nasty" bits as well as the "nice" bits.

    Just tell her the facts: It's just a story, it's not real, and people made it up a long time ago when life was cheap and you had to have three babies to be sure of one growing to adulthood.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00153117604262687451 RilianSharp

    I'm so glad my parents are secular. I didn't find out about any of this stuff till I was a teenager.

  • http://exlaodicea.wordpress.com berenike

    In the West we don't have that sense of a vengeful God sending Jesus to the cross either, at least, not if by "we" you mean a Christian belonging to one of the apostolic churches.

  • http://didimaa.org/about_didi_maa.aspx Hindu Saint

    Nice Article! Thanks for sharing with us