Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Teaching Religious Mythology 2: Battle of Jericho

Very charming film.  http://sitasingstheblues.com/
It all started when I watched Sita Sings the Blues with my toddler.  It was a little violent in one place, but it does a pretty good job of introducing a story from Indian mythology.  Besides, if religious fundamentalists hate it, then it must be good right?  

Ever since I've thought about raising a child I've had the idea is to expose my son to the most facts as possible about the widest range of religions.  I'll admit, this is my way of inoculating him against fundamentalism.

So back in February I made the first post (Teaching Religious Mythology 1: Noah's Ark) of what I intend to be a more or less regular series on introducing different religious stories to kids and what resources are out there to help accomplish this.

I discovered that the flood story is so horrendous if one were to consider the literal scriptural account that a fair deal of nip and tucking (aka strategic editing) needs to be done to make it into something anyone would ever consider exposing their kids to.

After doing some research into the material available for this second instalment about the Battle of Jericho, I've come to the conclusion that there is probably no good way to expose any of these myths to children under, say, 8.  Some of the stuff in the Bible is so psychotic in nature that it would be kind of like trying to tell my two year old about Charles Manson in an age appropriate way.

So I am still seriously questioning whether I want to skip these particular stories and concentrate only on the non-violent ones.  Would I then be painting a distorted picture of this god?  Is there any way to avoid a distorted picture?  Is it okay to leave out inappropriate details now and fill in these broad strokes with more detail later (something that seems to be neglected by many religious teachers and pastors well into their adult lives)?

And while researching a question keeps reoccurring.  These are horrific myths that can involve genocide, filicide (mortal or divine),  the murder of innocent children and animals and total destruction of whole cities of people.  What do these cartoons say bout the minds and morality of those who trivialize and obscure these myths and then feed them to small children as a 'good thing' demonstrating a 'good' god?

It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that most of these stories are not going to be taught to my son until he at least understands what death and murder are.  But all is not lost!  Consider, dear reader, this to be a (very amateur) anthropological and psychological survey; a voyage of questioning where we can at least wonder together -- How the hell anyone could possibly think these stories demonstrate a good god and are worthy to be taught to young children?

So without further ado...

The Battle of Jericho (BT:JOS 06)
I think everyone is probably fairly familiar with the story, but if not then just click here.  A little research into the BT tells me that this Joshua character was a pretty nasty piece of work. Seems like he's a bit into genocide. Note that this is  one of many cities Joshua and his army will take by force and lay total waste to men, children, women, donkeys, puppy dogs etc.

Some Christians seem thrilled by verse 20 below.  But I hardly see any mention of verse 21.
Joshua 6:
20 When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.
21 They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it - men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.
One Atheist's Perspective
The idea of getting your kids to celebrate the sacking of a town along with the killing of men women and children - makes me ill.  Once again, Youtuber MtlRedAtheist sums up some of my feelings about this very well in this excellent video.  Follow the skulls on the right.

What a wonderful story for the kids!  I can't wait to see how they're going to sell it.

The Worst
Here's some of the video's that had me seriously thinking about my question above.  What kind of twisted up minds can either get so fervently enthusiastic about this story or can trivialize a story about mass genocide down to a cartoon parody?  It blows my mind.  I hope you'll see what I mean.

Donut Man
It's really the near fanatical gusto that Rob Evans' Donut Man character shows while singing this that I find disturbing, the near rabid fervor in his eyes.

Rob really gets into it on this video and shows us just what happens.  Those who do not follow his god will have their whole families slaughtered.  Those who do follow their god get to viciously murder men, women and children along with all their animals.  In a win win situation like this, who wouldn't be thrilled?  And they all deserve it anyway... they mocked Joshua.  As a human being I find this frightening.

Why would I ever want to get my kid excited about this?

Veggie Tales
A very popular series of videos out there is Veggie Tales.  The first time I was presented with these computer animated talking Christian vegetables I couldn't help but gasp and utter - what the fuck?

I'll have to admit, they really can be pretty entertaining for animated vegetables.  But when it comes to their treatment of the Jericho myth, they water it down to a comedy skit.  Click Josh and the Big Wall to see it.

Joshua Vegetable and his vegetable army bounce around until they reach Jericho.  It turns out the wall is manned by several French peas.  The action then moves to a more or less direct homage of the hilarious scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail where King Arthur confronts the French soldiers at the castle.  (Incidentally, I find this nod to the Pythons a little ironic.  They weren't exactly well known for their respect of religious dogma.)

Anyway, here we have the confrontation that will lead to the mass murder of everyone in an entire city reduced to two French peas and a bunch of vegetables paying homage to a comedy skit.  No humans or animals ever involved.  Even the peas don't get harmed when the walls come down.

I'll make a link, but won't press it too hard or it will seem to extreme and in itself become ridiculous, but on the website of the organization Genocide Watch you can find the 8 Stages of Genocide.  Stage 3 is Dehumanization.  I don't want to take this too far, but you really couldn't dehumanize everyone in the entire event any more than what this video does.   There is absolutely nothing human about a French pea. Now don't get me wrong, I would find this funny if they were portraying almost anything other than the complete annihilation of every man, woman and child in a city simply for not giving up their land because some foreign god apparently spoke to the Hebrews.

In my mind this comes pretty close to the Holocaust re-framed as a cartoon with vegetables.  The story retold using humorous little ditties and happy little songs.  For all I know other Veggie Tales cartoons may be okay but I won't be showing this one to my kid.

The Mediocre
Other cartoons like this one from Hanna Barbara and this much more recent one reduce the Canaanite people to being demonic and sub-human either barely or not even acknowledging the mass killing of man, woman, baby and animal.  Their low production quality don't have the redeeming factor of Veggie Tales.

The Good
In my last blog post in this series, which covered the Noah's Ark story, my favourite of the lot was Moody Bible Institute's - Noah and the Ark.

Well, they seem to really care about accuracy, and their no-nonsense approach to story telling wins again.  Their The Walls of Jericho movie
 doesn't come right out and say they killed everyone in the city, but it at least keeps an appropriately sombre tone.

So how Will I present this myth?
Here's a non-surprise. I think I'll pass on teaching this story to my son until he's quite a bit older.  I find it fascinating how some Christian parents can have no problem introducing their kids to stories with such extreme violence, whether explicit or implied, while being so squeamish about the slightest signs of nudity.

Incidentally, I have no problem with my son seeing nudity in art, movies etc.  Nudity is not the same as eroticism or pornography.  Interestingly, I find a sharp divide between French Quebec culture and English rest of Canada culture when it comes to nudity.

Anyway, I draw the line with violence.  So I guess this makes me opposite to many (fundamentalist) Christians.

Next In This Series
In my next instalment of this series I'll discuss the Easter Story.  That one should be easier, right?

Editor's Note: I've added the label teaching religious mythology to all of the posts in this series to make it easier for you to read them all, should you choose.

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