Family-friendly programming

I hear the term “family-friendly” used fairly often, especially on the radio, as a code word for “religious.” Christian radio station IDs include sound bites of happy moms explaining that they can leave this station on with their children in the car and “not have to worry” about what they might end up hearing. There’s a certain fairness to this claim, highlighted when the next station on my dial plays only rap/R&B that seems to have given up on any attempts at euphemism.

But I’m not sure that I buy the idea that a Christian radio station is “family-friendly.” Many of the songs they play carry the basic message of: I’m a broken, horrible person who doesn’t deserve to exist, but thanks, Jesus, for loving me anyway. I understand why this sounds happy and uplifting to Christians, who accept the degrading premise, but this sounds like pretty classic emotional abuse. If I had kids I certainly wouldn’t want to leave them listening to those kinds of songs for extended periods of time (or, really, ever).

When they’re not playing self-deprecating love songs to God-as-emotional-abuser, Christian media outlets of various kinds can be found telling Bible stories in cutesy, kid-targeted ways, or even just reading aloud from the Bible. (I’ve even heard long, droning readings of genealogy and population counts, as though that’s interesting or relevant to anybody.) The idea seems to be that if something’s in the Bible, it must be good to tell our children about.

But the Bible has plenty of examples of scandalous, even nonconsentual sex:

Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”

That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.

The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.

So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father.

grotesque violence:

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

and terrifying threats of cruel punishment:

The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:

“You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,  you who are and who were; for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.”

And I heard the altar respond:

“Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”

The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.

The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.

(Those are just a few highlights. The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible has a longer list of Biblical “family values” here.)

And I can certainly understand why a parent wouldn’t want to expose a young child to all of that! Of course, they tend to ignore these less-than-family-friendly stories and passages — which only underscores the fact that they don’t get their values from their supposed holy book after all. So let’s all stop pretending that Christian doctrine and the Bible are good for children, please. If you want to tell nice little fables that teach kids to be kind to each other, you don’t need the Bible to provide them. And cherry-picking the nicer bits from among the Bible’s genocides, rapes, and plagues is a pretty misleading strategy for spreading the “good word.”

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11 Comments

  1. It seems to me that “family-friendly” tends to mean, “I don’t have to worry about my child being exposed to knowledge of and questions about things that happen in the real world all the time.”

    Family friendly means “protecting” children from knowing about sex, atheism, violence, swearing, etc, etc. As though not knowing things is somehow good for them.

    As Paul Graham once said, “It is probably inevitable that parents should want to dress up their kids’ minds in cute little baby outfits.”

    But is it a good thing?

  2. It’s the cherry-picking that irks me. I tend to listen to my iPod or CDs in my car in my college town because I typically listen to Christian music, but there’s only a couple of stations in town, and you described them to a tee here. Mostly, the DJs make me want to vomit because, seriously, who is that perky ALL the time?

  3. @t2tb: I see where you’re coming from on this, but I do think there’s a reasonable basis for caring about “kid-friendliness” to some extent. Yes, murders and rapes happen, but it’s probably traumatic and definitely unnecessary for an elementary schooler to hear these things described in detail, or to watch graphic scenes on Law & Order SVU or whatever. There’s a level of cognitive development needed to process that, and it seems okay to me for parents to want to exercise some discretion. I mean, I had nightmares after watching Ren & Stimpy when I was too young to make sense of unphysical animations (eyeballs falling out, etc.). I don’t know what I would have made of songs about doing lines of coke and banging hoes or something. And I’m pretty glad I had the chance to mature a bit before having to hear about that.

    Some of the sheltering is undoubtedly stupid. Your kids won’t be scarred by finding out that some boys fall in love with boys, or that not everyone in the world has the same religious beliefs. But I still think some sheltering is okay and even good.

  4. And cherry-picking the nicer bits from among the Bible’s genocides, rapes, and plagues is a pretty misleading strategy for spreading the “good word.”

    The Bible is certainly not a children’s book. It is an ancient text of wisdom that reflects the sometimes ugly realities found within those cultures.

    I truly dig the book/movie Shawshank Redemption – it has a great story and some good truths to learn from it. That does not mean that I would have wanted my little children to watch/read it in its entirety. There is a time and place for everything, wouldn’t you agree?

    (And by the way, “there is a time for everything” is one of the great lessons that can be found in the Bible, as well as in the song by the Byrds…)

    As to not needing the Bible to be able to teach moral lessons, I agree. But if there are good moral lessons and great truths to be found in its pages, wouldn’t you agree it could be worth a read?

    The lives of many folk have been enriched by reading and re-reading its stories and teachings – even the horrible ones. Lessons can come by bad example as well as by good example.

    One man’s opinion.

  5. Your VeggieTales picture cracked me up. My Fundie brother-in-law used to send those videos to my kids when they were little. We’d use them as discussion starters, about whether the central lesson of the video was actually a good lesson. My favorite discussion started with “Josh and the Big Wall”, where the lesson was “do it God’s way, even when it doesn’t make any sense”. My kids immediately say the problem with that one! I don’t think my brother-in-law intended for those videos to help my children decide that religion was a crock, but that was the result.

  6. Dan: I agree, the Bible is probably worth reading in general, at least because of the huge impact it’s had on Western culture / civilization. There’s a time and a place for learning about the genocides committed by the ancient Israelites, or reading the apocalyptic hallucinations of John of Patmos, or finding out that the Judeo-Christian god supposedly ordered disobedient children to be stoned to death. But that time probably comes after you learn how to ride a bike without training wheels, and unless it’s much later than that, the place should be somewhere with nurturing and reassuring parental guidance.

    Ubi: Ha! That’s a really great story. I’ve always really liked the concept of VeggieTales — I’m a sucker for anthropomorphized small animals or inanimate objects — it’s just too bad they’re so preachy.

  7. Yes, a shame the veggies are so preachy, because they’re also cute, clever, funny and have pop-culture references and catchy songs. It would be nice if there were something secular with all that. Oh, wait, I just described My Little Pony (FIM)! I’m surprised I haven’t heard some preacher howling that the Ponies are an evil plot to destroy our children.

  8. Unless it’s a gag, I think that’s been done (condemning My Little Pony…)

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Phil_Phillips

  9. Jojo the hun

     /  April 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Isn’t this just a petty complaint about the kind of music people are listening to?

  10. Carl de Malmanche

     /  May 3, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Never liked the Lot story (especially the reverence give him by the Church/church-people)

    I know of no girl (young woman) that desires to have babies by her father, and having studied some psych stuff it seems pretty solidly programmed in there.
    Where I have heard of that kind of behaviour (physical/baby attract to older male relative) it was the result of some very heavy grooming.

    …which isolation in mountains would be a start (isolation, removal of other cultural values).

    Generally though before jumping to the conclusion one would have to look to other sociological hints. Objectionification of others, especially women and children (beyond the cultural norm for the area) where the targets are treated as possessions or are used as the means to perpetrate the abusers goal. Things like failure to maintain famial goals (ie setting his kids up for -their- future). Isolation from members of the community/rejection of social groups……

    As for the nasty god. That’s the whole history of “God”. People die/are injured. Personification through anthromorphism (the universe/nature/creation must be a reflection of humanity’s thought and beliefs [oh the hubris]) so therefore nature (fickle nature) must have desire and thoughts. Thus appeasement is offered. It works on tigers and wolves (?) and bullies that they take their full and move on. And it works on parents and authority figures!!! Do as you are told or suffer – the magical thought is therefore “If I do as I’m told I won’t have to be the one to suffer”.
    Thus their reality IS “wrath of God”, and there teaching and hope is to frighten children into appeasement (as mention in Lot paragraph, the teaching of future advancement values to young is a normal herd^H^H^H social behaviour)

  11. Carl de Malmanche

     /  May 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    3 paragraph – that should be social *peer* groups.
    ie those that should be equals.
    Often substituted with power structures where the abuser can “farm” their passion.

    Occurs in male and females – however our retarded backward societies only recognise the sexual preditory behaviour, not the equivalent (and equally damaging, if no moreso) female behaviour – which is often saluted!! as a positive thing – especially amongst those who use it to carry out there abuse. In many cases, even looking or researching such equivalence is frown upon and condemned, a very forbidden group of questions..

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