Disneyfication of the Gospel

Coming home from second grade Sunday school, my son asked me about the Bible story he just heard: “did it really happened that way?”  I sort of paused as I realized that I was torn between being “dad” and a Bible scholar.  So I asked him: “Do want to hear the National Geographic version or Disney Channel’s?”

We had this momentary staring contest as we both realized the profundity of it all.  I was the first to blink and quickly added that there is a History Channel version; but that already has a foregone conclusion that whatever it is must be a U.S. government conspiracy involving the Illuminati and aliens…

No. Let’s not go that way.

Anyway, this brings to mind that Disney itself has mangled the fairy tales it has made movies of.  Enough sites in the internet has compared the brutal and violent fairy tales and how tame the Disney versions are compare to them (see Huffington Post). 

Having taught children’s Sunday school long ago, I sort of remember the packaged material we dished out to the kids.  They were simple and easy to handle—too simple I thought.  I cannot really compare because I never went to Sunday school myself.  But it was not as if I did not have my share of Bible stories when I was growing up.

I had something like a dozen children’s books (ca. 1964ish) on Bible stories which were pretty graphic especially as far as what happen to Joseph because of his jealous brothers were of his multi-colored coat.  As I began to ask more questions, my mom threw at me an old King James Version with inserts that had really vivid paintings (think Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”) that gave me nightmares when I was in second grade.  This was before “The Good News Bible” which culturally neutral line drawings.  And even before "The Flying House" and "Superbook", both of which retold Bible stories in cartoons.

That "graphic" King James Version did not scar me or scare me away from the Gospel; it actually made me more curious.  It stirred my imagination.  In fact, it was imagination that drew me in—including into fairy tales.  I remembered my aunt one rainy evening telling me the story of Pinocchio from an old book (no pictures or drawings) and being kept away for nights after.  Later seeing the Disney movie was a bit of a letdown because it was not as scary as I originally imagined it to be.

It has been over ten years ago since I had this conversation with my son—and yeah, I gave him the Nat Geo version.  In fact, everything he has heard from me from then on were the stuff I taught in seminary, never mincing the brutal details and foibles of the people involved in the Bible.  Including where the confusions and doubts were: how they were interpreted and consequently why Christianity divided into so many damnations, I mean, denominations.

If fairy tales were watered down by Disney to be even less than the fairy tales they originally were, what is the effect of watering down the Bible stories to become less than what they are?  It is bad enough that the Bible itself is considered a “fairy-tale” in some circles.  How would a young Christian cope when his or her faith is critically and intellectually challenged and all he has in his defense are even less than a “fairy-tale”?