From the Guy Who Gave Us 'Veggie Tales': 'What's In The Bible?'

You'd have to have been in a coma for the past 18 years to not know about Veggie Tales, the Christianity-based anthropomorphic vegetable show (and movies) for kids. You'd also have to have avoided a Chick-Fil-A, as it seems there is perpetually some Veggie Tales tie-in with their kids meals. (Chick-Fil-A, of course, being the Christianity-based (and anti-LGBT) fast food chain where actual vegetables are scarce).

Veggie Tales co-creator, Phil Vischer, has created an online network for kids called Jelly Telly. His goal is to grow Jelly Telly into a Christian Nickelodeon of sorts. The venture is partly funded by Focus on the Family, James Dobson's tax exempt non-profit organization founded in 1977. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described Focus on the Family as one of a "dozen major groups [which] help drive the religious right's anti-gay crusade."

Lots of folks would assume that Jelly Telly and its programs are fairly benign, but the association with Focus on the Family should be enough to raise concern about whether any of the 'Christian values' threaded through Jelly Telly's programming also help drive the religious right's ideology into the minds of young children.

One Jelly Telly property that is gaining in popularity is a new DVD series based on the network titled What's In The Bible. The show features a mix of puppetry, animation, and musical performances. Kind of in the same vein as Jack's Big Music Show or The Muppet Show.

In an introduction to the series, Phil Vischer tells us that the Bible is the "most widely owned, least widely read in history. It sits on more shelves, gathering more dust, than any book in the world." I would agree with him there. He continues, "And yet this book holds the keys to understanding our lives." That certainly is the opinion of many.

Vischer says, "We have a crisis in the church today. Sixty-five percent of kids are dropping out of church as soon as they graduate from high school. We need to do something about this."

What's Phil going to do? He continues: "We're gonna walk kids through the Bible all the way from Genesis to Revelation and answer their big questions about who wrote it, and where it came from, and why we can trust it, and what difference does it make."

The series contains 5 DVD's, and I have not viewed the material outside of the clips that can be found online, but from what I can gather, the series steers clear of the tired fundamentalism associated with Young Earth Creationism and biblical literalism. So that is somewhat of a relief.

For example, it was refreshing to see that they describe up front how the Bible is a collection of writings (including letters, poems, etc.) written by over 40 people over the course of 1600 years, instead of insinuating that it's one book written by God which should be taken 100% literally.

However, as a secular parent, I personally am not too crazy about the idea of presenting The Bible in this way to children (Christian or otherwise).  While I certainly believe that some of The Bible's themes (i.e. empathy, good will, sacrifice, compassion, etc.) are important to instill in a child at a young age (these are not unique to Christianity, or to any religion), I think many of the Bible's themes, even some of those simplified and presented here in this series, are capable of doing more damage to a child than people realize.

I'm all for religious literacy.  I think too many people, including the devout, do not know enough about religion.  However, there is a big difference between teaching about religion and religious indoctrination, which is precisely what is going on in What's In The Bible?

We don't learn from the series that "many people believe X and Y." We learn that, "This is the truth, straight from God, and this is the doctrine you must follow to avoid misery in life." Of course, I expect as much from Phil Vischer and Focus on the Family. He's not teaching Religion 101 to children. This is not a Unitarian Universalist show.  He's planting the seeds of Christian faith (and all that comes along with it, good and bad) in the minds of impressionable children who have no reason to reject what they are being spoon-fed.

Phil seems to have taken to heart the Jesuit maxim, "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man."

While I am sure that many children enjoy the series (there are quite a few children's reviews on YouTube, many of which aren't terribly convincing), and while I'm sure that many of Vischer's young viewers will grow into fine grownups, I can't help but think about the ones that are being primed for a life of Christian exceptionalism.  To be indoctrinated at a young age with the belief that there is only one route to salvation, and that thinking differently will lead to misery and damnation, is to be primed for intolerance (not to mention undue anxiety and guilt).  Sure, this is just a t.v. show, one that does the same thing that Sunday school did for previous generations, and many of us turned out just fine. But Sunday school was never presented with such production value, and quite honestly most of us didn't pay much attention.  Vischer's intention is to get the child's attention by imitating the entertainment they see on Clubhouse Disney and Nick Jr., and then start in with Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus.

Granted, much of children's programming is irreverent, abstract, and sometimes a little creepy (Barney, anyone?), but I would think some of this series' segments could be rather terrifying to a child, because the show speaks about the child -- about her life (and afterlife), her soul, and her fate as it relates to her behavior and her beliefs.  This, when you think about it, is really quite heavy, and quite disturbing for children's programming.  The child is presented with concepts that appear to have serious implications. Yo Gabba Gabba it's not.

For example, if we view the section on Genesis below, from a young child's perspective, we learn that God is male, that we shouldn't trust ourselves (it will make God angry at us), and that sins are small terrifying monsters that will attack you, ride around on your back forever, and cause facial blemishes.

I kid (sorta), but young children do not need to be saddled with supernatural concepts of salvation, eternal damnation, and sin.  Young children can be taught to be moral, compassionate, and ethical without invoking the supernatural, and without employing guilt, insecurity, and fear.

The truth is, even the above segment, which is actually some fucked up shit to lay on a toddler when you think about it, is tame in comparison to what's really in the Bible.

At what point, Phil, are you going to tell the kids about what else is in the Bible: slavery, selling your daughter, dashing babies against the rocks, killing kids who sass their parents, killing brides who are not still virgins, killing those who follow other religions, women as submissives who cannot teach, killing those who work on the sabbath, etc., etc.  I look forward to seeing those episodes.

My point in bringing up those barbaric passages is that, despite the fact that the Genesis clip above does not contain killing or raping or slavery does not make it any less distressing to a child.  In fact, describing how ancient civilizations committed barbaric acts for their god is much more abstract and less harmful to a child than saddling them with the concepts of sin, damnation, and pleasing an all-knowing, always-watching, supernatural man in the sky who holds their very fate in his hands.

What do I suggest as an alternative to What's in The Bible?  What alternative means do we have to instill our children with morality, ethics, and compassion?  We can best serve our children by teaching them, in real world, non-supernatural terms, why it is important to treat others with compassion and respect, and why it serves society to act morally.  We can best serve our children by teaching them about the world around them -- its people (and their wide range of beliefs), its cultures, and its beauty. We can explain to them why humanity rewards compassion and honesty, and why harmful actions are rejected. We can even point to examples of this that predate monotheism.  We can draw from religion, for sure (religious literacy, after all, right?).  Many religious traditions feature wonderful stories that highlight the merits of being a moral person -- they are literature, after all.  But there are just as many, if not more, wonderful stories (or other means of teaching) that fall outside of religion, and which are just as effective (and which don't have those pesky raping, killing, slave-holding parts to avoid).

While many atheists and secularists believe that children should be shielded from religion, I tend to believe that they need to learn about it.  Our culture, especially here in America, is steeped in religion. Our wars are based partly on religious clashes. Clashes the world over have at their root religious disagreements.  To shield a child from knowledge of religion is not much different than shielding them from history or biology.  However, the key is teaching children about religion in the way that we teach them about different cultures. Muslims believe X. Buddhists believe Y. Christians believe Z. Etc., etc. Teach them that even within each religion, there exists an entire spectrum of beliefs. Teach them that religion can be used for good and evil, and provide them with examples.  And most importantly teach them that they can choose what (or if) they believe when they feel they wish to make that decision.  And most importantly, that they can change their minds.

So, I say, "Thumbs down, Phil Vischer." "Thumbs down, What's In The Bible."  I appreciate that you're not telling children that the earth is 6,000 years old, that people cohabited with dinosaurs, or that homosexuality is an abomination.  But I do think that you're putting blinders on children. (I also realize this might be your intention.)

If there were a way to groom children into a life of Christian exceptionalism, serving up religious dogma masquerading as a Nick Jr.-style musical puppet show wouldn't be the worst way to go about it.


The Batshit Files: News Roundup | 4th of July Weekend Edition

The fifth freedom is freedom from ignorance. - Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Michele Bachmann's husband says gays are 'barbarians' that need to be 'disciplined' (Towleroad)
  • Kansas abortion (temporary?/indefinite?) ban starts tomorrow (Maddow Blog
  • Rick Perry's non-denominational, apolitical prayerfest: Only Christians allowed (Mother Jones)
  • Allowing other faiths to participate in Gov. Perry's prayer rally would "be idolatry of the worst sort" (Right Wing Watch)
  • Pat Buchanan: Mexicans are ruining soccer, America. (Media Matters)
  • Bryan Fischer actually claims that he has "never seen a Christian treat a homosexual with hatred" (Right Wing Watch)
  • Birthers sue Esquire over birther parody piece, seeking more than $200 million. (Forbes)
  • Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel: Adopted children Of gay parents are "props" to further "sexual anarchy" (Right Wing Watch)
  • Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) on undocumented immigrants: ‘I will do anything short of shooting them.’ (ThinkProgress)
  • Ohio legislator sworn in on version of Bible that endorses the genocide of Native Americans. (Plunderbund)
  • Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) says gay people "shouldn't feel bad" about a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. (Right Wing Watch)
  • Evangelicals feel more threatened by secularism than sex, violence, Islam, govt, Catholics, etc. (Friendly Atheist)
  • Orren Hatch (R-UT) aims to slip abortion bill into Korean free trade agreement. (Mother Jones)
  • Tea Party leader says anti-gay bullying is ‘healthy peer pressure’ (LGBTQ Nation)

Rick Perry's Prayer Rally Is 'Non-Denominational' & 'Non-Political' & By 'Non,' He Means 'Very'

Seriously, has this guy not read the Establishment Clause?

From Wikipedia:
The Establishment Clause prohibits the federal, state or municipal establishment of an official religion or other preference for one religion over another, non-religion over religion, or religion over non-religion.

In the Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet, 512 U.S. 687 (1994), Justice David Souter, writing for the majority, concluded that "government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion."
Take a look at the latest promotion for 'The Response.'

If it wasn't clear enough exactly who the Governor wants to join him at his non-denominational, non-political rally, today it was established that only Christians are allowed.

There is no doubt that Rick Perry is gunning (no pun intended) for the presidency. And he is clearly gunning for the far-right Christian conservative population. There is nothing that motivates people to vote more than fear, and Perry is peddling fear like a late-night infomercial: Fear immigrants, fear Islam, fear Obama, fear the secular left -- they want to take away your right to pray to Jesus.

There are plenty of crazy GOP hopefuls. But Perry may just be the only one crazy enough to shoot the First Amendment as if it were a coyote, and then brag about it.


United States Senate Members Offer Message of Hope For LGBT Youth

A video for LGBT youth around the country and the It Gets Better Project, featuring U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

I can't help but notice the dearth of R's in that list. That sends quite a message of its own, don't you think?

Michele Bachmann's Story of America

See? This is why it might be a good thing for Michele Bachmann to get the GOP nod. Endless comedy show fodder.

From Jimmy Kimmel Live:

Miss USA 2011 — Should Math Be Taught In Schools?

The real tape of the actual Miss USA pageant contestants answering a similar question on evolution can be viewed here.


The Batshit Files: News Roundup | 6.28.11

A whole buttload of crazy for you today:
  • Rick Santorum: Liberals want marriage equality in order to ‘undermine faith' (ThinkProgress)
  • Pat Robertson says God will destroy America because of gay marriage. (Right Wing Watch)
  • Ohio state rep wants to ban abortion because China has too many smart kids (Right Wing Watch)
  • Michele Bachmann's fans quickly revise Wikipedia entry for John Quincy Adams to match Bachmann's assertion that he was a Founding Father. (ThinkProgress
  • Bryan Fischer weighs in on Michele Bachmann's "John Wayne" gaffe ... by claiming that all the Left is doing by mocking her is "reminding us of the clear connection between homosexuality and pedophilia." (Right Wing Watch)
  • Bryan Fischer (he's on a roll!) says fidelity in gay relationships "just doesn't happen" and that it is common for gay men to have 500-1000 partners in their lifetimes (Right Wing Watch)
  • An Oregon couple who treated their infant daughter with faith healing rather than take her to a doctor were sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years probation. (Oregon Live)
  • N.Y. town clerk won't sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples. I suppose she should find a new job? (Daily Kos)
  • Chuck Colson says that “the tyranny of tolerance” will drive America into a totalitarian state (Right Wing Watch)
  • Catholic Church denies funeral mass to San Diego gay businessman (LGBT Weekly)
  • Authorities find bomb apparently targeting immigrants in Arizona (SPLC Hatewatch)
  • Michele Bachmann stands by claims that ‘Founding Fathers’ ended slavery (Raw Story)

Michele Bachmann and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Poor Michele Bachmann can't catch a break.  It makes you wonder if Sarah Palin is holding out on announcing her candidacy just so Michele Bachmann can serve as the whipping post for a bit. 

On the heels of her latest gaffes, Bachmann told CNN, "I’m a substantive, serious person and I have a strong background...I'm introducing myself now to the American people so that they can know that I have a strong academic scholarly background, more important I have a real life background."

Yesterday, Bachmann had a little bit of a run-in with a convicted serial killer. As you've probably heard by now, Bachmann, while in Waterloo, IA, told a Fox News reporter, "Well what I want them to know is just like John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That's the kind of spirit that I have, too."

John Wayne wasn't from Waterloo (he was from Iowa, but three hours away in Winterset), but killer clown John Wayne Gacy lived, worked, and killed there.

If Bachmann were a scholar, she might have avoided the John Wayne comparison altogether. Anyone who had followed John Wayne beyond his screen appearances would have been aware that he was an ex-socialist WWII service-avoider who said "I believe in white supremacy..."

As if her day couldn't get any worse, Tom Petty is reportedly issuing a cease and desist letter for her use of his song 'American Girl' during her rally.

The song, it has been noted, was also sung by the kidnapped politician's daughter was in "Silence of the Lambs."

Michele Bachmann, the scholar, appears not to have studied the lyrics to many of the songs played during her rally (and don't be naive, those songs are not pulled out of a hat). The Atlantic has compiled a list of questionable lyrics from the songs, which included "Start Me Up," "Let's Get Loud," and "I Got You (I Feel Good)."

Bachmann has also been using Katy Perry's 'Firework,' which anyone knows, unless you live under a rock, is somewhat of an LGBT anthem. Bachmann the scholar, is ridiculously anti-LGBT. As Richard Roeper stated, "'Firework' is "all about acceptance and tolerance and celebrating our differences. Perry dedicated the video (which has nearly 200 million views on YouTube) to the “It Gets Better” campaign, which is dedicated to fighting harassment of gays and lesbians."

Of course, all of this will lead Bachmann and her supporters to decry the "lamestream media" as sexist haters who are ready to put her every move under a microscope. Sound familiar?

Hold on, folks. We're only one day into the 'official' Bachmann campaign.  There's a whole lot where yesterday came from.


States That Allow Marriage Between First Cousins

Sometimes maps say everything:

via NYT.

Scientology Sing-along Propaganda: 'We Stand Tall'

This video has been making the rounds recently. When it was first posted, not many could verify its legitimacy, or any details surrounding its origin. Except that it was really cheesy and was probably created sometime in the 80's. But we're starting to see some information surface.

David Miscavige, the leader of the Church of Scientology, appears prominently in the video.

The Village Voice has compiled a 'who's who' to accompany the video:
At the 2:40 mark, you'll see everyone together warbling their guts out. Our tipster provided the following playbook:

Blonde with brown top and black jacket is Shelley Miscavige -- who is now missing. To her right -- Ray Mithoff, Former Inspector General for Tech RTC, reported to be in The Hole. To his right -- Mark Yager, Former Inspector General for Admin RTC, reported to be in The Hole. To his right -- Mark Ingber -- Former Commanding Officer of CMO = Commodore Messengers Org, reported to be in the Hole. To Ingber's right and behind him, Mike Rinder Former Commanding Officer of OSA, currently blown and speaking out against the cult. Front and Center -- David Miscavige [the little dude] wearing weird Hermes/goatse shirt. To DM's right and behind him -- Heber Jentzsch, Former President of the C of S, now reportedly in the The Hole. To DM's right -- Greg Wilhere -- Inspector General, reportedly still working for DM. To Greg Wilhere's right-- Marty Rathbun, Former Inspector General for Ethics RTC, now out and speaking out against the cult as well as running the "Independent" Scientologists. To Marty's right -- Guillaume Lesevre Executive Director Int. reportedly in the The Hole.

So many friends of Miscavige, now either defected and speaking out against him or disappeared to Scientology's "RPF," the prison "hole" that has swallowed up so many of his top loyal friends.
Take a gander, before David Miscavige's minions have the video removed. You know damn well they will.