why I don’t want to read the Bible with my toddler.

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Sometimes I make spoilery pop culture references like, “I am your father!” and Mike shushes me with incredible ferocity because he wants (we want) Atticus to experience those things like we did. It’s so hard, y’all! There are so many phrases and plot twists and conclusions that we don’t want him to know about just yet. Whether this is right or wrong, I cannot say. I only know that it comes from a pure place of delicious anticipation as we imagine seeing him read and watch some of our favorites for the first time. We love Harry Potter so much that we debated how old he had to be to read it while he was still in utero. (For the record, I tend to think that nine or ten is a good age to start.)

Lately I have been saying in a mostly joking way that we should stop reading any Bible stories with Atticus and save them for a later date, too. Because I like to be provocative, I have been framing this as wanting to “protect” Atticus from the Bible. Just like we try to protect him from spoilers (except, of course, not really just like that at all). Now, before we go any further, I just want to say that, whether you believe me or not, this is because I love the Bible. I do. It’s a beautiful messy story of humans wrestling with their ideas about God, and I learned a lot of it as a kid but I didn’t learn to love it until more recently. These days, I think of the Bible and I get a warm feeling in my heart, but I am wary of teaching Atticus this sacred text. I worry that our culture’s tendency to wrap things in a nice bow will cause him to conclude that he should just “be good” or that an angel and a ram are the answer to the question of whether you should murder your son. I don’t want him to think that trusting God will save you from a pack of lions (or a pack of bullies). A lot of us were taught these simplified versions of Bible stories and I, for one, have spent a lot of time putting the Bible into more context and coming to love it for what it really is.

To be a well-read citizen of our culture, you need to know about the Bible, and I don’t want to deprive Atticus of that knowledge. I also hope I would never be accused of underestimating children, who are smart and intuitive in so many ways. But I want to differentiate the Bible from The Three Little Pigs, which is so much more clearly about right and wrong. I don’t want the Bible to be an idol, and I don’t want his affection for the Bible to bottom out when he starts asking questions about genocide and natural disasters and patriarchy and whether this stuff really happened just like this.

I love how real and messy the Bible is, but that love makes me want to treat it with more respect, to cherish its holiness rather than warping it into something it was never meant to be. So here’s the question I’m wrestling with lately: if we love Luke Skywalker and Hermione and Owen Meany and Katniss and Ponyboy and Boo Radley and Elizabeth Bennet enough to say, “You know, it might be better if you wait on these,” then why shouldn’t we be even more careful how we share Moses and Jacob and Noah and Jesus?

How do you talk to your kids about the Bible?

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