Do you want to be popular with the kids this Christmas? Do you want to hear the squeals of pure delight that every mom, dad, aunt, or uncle wants when that special present is unwrapped? Might I suggest a book of theology? Yes, one of the publishers here at AAR/SBL has a table of Theology for Kids. Staring at that sign during the long hours on the conference floor, my mind kept wandering back to Richard Dawkins’ comparison of teaching children religion to child abuse. Indeed, my wife had sent me an article in Rolling Stone a few weeks back that declared an Evangelical childhood was a, to put it politely, a total mind-fornication. It is something from which those of us raised religious spend all our lives recovering. Some never escape, while others try to make sense of the world without it.
Publishers of religious bodies make up a substantial part of those present at the annual meeting. The ones with the biggest, flashiest displays are often buoyed up by evangelical dollars. Teaching kids to think this way is a core part of keeping the meme alive and those of us who dared question it with our God-given brains are the modern heretics and heathens. Some years here, various publishers are piously closed on Sunday morning (this is only a three-and-a-half day conference) with signs telling the rest of us that they’re observing the Lord’s day. America is a strange mix of evangelical and secular, the kind of place where you can purchase theology for kids. I know I grew up with such things, even though we really couldn’t afford the other children’s classics that I only learned about from having a child of my own.
The canon is important to this self image. For me, I’ve come to expand mine a bit over the years. That expanded canon includes unconventional sources of spiritual inspiration, or so my conversations with others leads me to believe. Theology can, and often does, lead to death sentences for adults. And sadly, occasionally for children. It’s difficult to blame adults for trying to ensure their children’s eternal salvation, especially when religion is so terribly difficult to escape even as an adult. I suppose that’s why I still advocate for learning about religion although it has damaged me personally as well as determined what would pass for my career. So I stand here awaiting my next appointment and find myself again taken into my past which was full of theology for children.