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Todd Friel does not like VeggieTales

It’s been a while since I tuned in to Christian radio, but I was driving around this weekend and turned on Wretched Radio with Todd Friel. Todd was bewailing the bad influence that the computer-animated cartoon VeggieTales is having on Christian kids.

Todd brought up data claimed by Ken Ham, who says that regular participants in Sunday School are more likely to leave the church and disbelieve the Bible.

On the show, Todd tied this in with VeggieTales. He made the case that:

  1. Sunday school tries to present sanitized Bible stories for kids, so they learn them as cutesy fairy tales rather than stories of an angry and vengeful God, by whom we need to be saved from sin.
  2. The cartoon offers cute little morality plays, also presenting of tidied up versions of Old Testament stories but never really inserting a Veggie Jesus into the action. Instead of salvation through grace, they emphasize things like responsible behavior and doing the right things for good reasons, rather than because the Bible said so.

I don’t know about you, but this makes me think that I ought to give VeggieTales a second look as something more worthwhile than typical brainwashing for kids.

Anyway, here’s the thesis Todd eventually got around to presenting. Kids are leaving the church in droves because they learn the Bible in a similar context to fairy tales and other childish stories. When they outgrow the fairy tales, they outgrow the Bible as well. To remedy this, kids deserve to learn the unvarnished truth. We need to see less secularization of churches in order to please their congregants, and we need to get back to teaching hard truths about how everybody deserves hell, and are only saved through grace. When we don’t deliver that, we drive our kids from Christianity.

As you might expect, I have a slightly different take.

First of all, sanitized presentations of the Bible aimed at kids, along with megachurches loaded with secular entertainment — rock music and live skit performances and “cool” young pastors — exist because people have already been drifting away from being seriously devoted to fairy tales for a long time now. They are trying to grab onto and hold people in any way that they can.

I don’t think the cuteness of VeggieTales is the problem. I think it’s an attempted solution to the underlying problem, which is that the Bible stories are childish and shouldn’t make all that much sense to grownups.

It seems to me that in generations past, people went for religious explanations because they were the best game in town. Observe how theists love to tout intellectual luminaries such as Isaac Newton and Thomas Jefferson as “creationists.” Easy for them to say, since both men lived well before Darwin made a naturalistic proposal to explain the origin of human life. In their time, there was simply no alternative to the default position of a designer.

It’s a lot harder to maintain this belief now, simply because a lot of scientific progress has been made in general, and most kids learn the basics of science in school. This is one really obvious reason why fundamentalists in general are so down on public schooling and opt for homeschooling at much higher rates than the general public. And it’s absolutely true that when kids go to college, they are much more likely to reject religion.

I think that Todd may be right that kids who watch VeggieTales eventually rethink their faith when they realize to what extent the show is a silly cartoon just like SpongeBob, with little basis in reality. It’s less clear to me that the problem would be mitigated if there were no VeggieTales. I would say that making the Bible palatable for children is simply a band-aid on an ongoing problem, that as we live in a more rational world, it will become increasingly difficult for fundamentalism to compete successfully for space among people’s memes.

As for Sunday School, I think this may be yet another case of confusing correlation with causation. My guess would be that going to Sunday School and rejecting religion probably share a root cause. It may well be the case that parents who encourage kids to read and learn about the Bible more (as opposed to just listening to what they’re told about it) are probably interested in educated kids in general, and education leads kids to drop their faith.


  1. says

    I actually did a blog post in an atheist parents group asking about Veggie Tales. My mom keeps giving them to my son, and he likes them from back when I was a Christian. I've decided not to stress it. Just like he has a few board book Bible stories in between "The Hungry Little Caterpillar" and "Goodnight Moon" on the bookshelf, he's not going to suddenly be infected with religious faith.

  2. says

    Oddly enough, I do think that becoming an atheis was vastly influenced by the fact that I regularly attended Sunday school and bible school and rarely listened to the boring preacher during church. When I tell my "deconverstion" story I often tell people that I was very much a part of the church as a kid and loved it, but I never believed any of it was true and had no idea that I was suppose to believe it until I was around 12. It was very difficult to distinguish between the songs and stories and activities present to me in church verses the ones in elementary school. I never did distinguish between the two and put both into the category of fun stories.One day I was sitting in school during a study time and our teacher started talking to another student in the class right behind me. They both attended the same church and were quietly discussing some upcoming event. They started talking about jesus and for some reason at the moment it hit me that they actually believed whatever unbelievable thing they were saying. After that I never again felt comfortable going to church. It was like having dinner after seeing a fictional movie and having a great discussion about the movie until you realize the person you're talking to thinks the movie was real. And to top it off they act offended and determine that you are a bad person for pointing out that it's fiction. At that point, you'd want to get up and leave. So I did.I agree that they are presenting religion to kids in the formats they are in an attempt to band-aid a problem, but in the end I don't think it will solve it. It certainly didn't for me.

  3. says

    "This is one really obvious reason why fundamentalists in general are so down on public schooling and opt for homeschooling at much higher rates than the general public."According to Ray Comfort's most recent blog post, it's actually because (I kid you not) those public school kids use filthy language, consume drugs and alcohol, are sexually promiscuous and contract STDs, get shot to death, do not learn basic facts about math and history, and (not surprising for Ray) learn that humans are actually primates (gasp!).http://raycomfortfood.blogspot.com/2009/07/idiot-home-school-textbooks.htmlEven if I tried to make a Poe, it could never approach Ray Comfort levels of stupidity.As for Veggie Tales, I always saw it as a watered-down version of the Bible to "prime the pump", if you will, for later indoctrination. I may have to give it another look around.Although, I'll be honest… I lived on PBS as a child and those shows were ripe with morality plays with no (obvious) biblical basis, so I don't think that injecting bible stories into it would make it any better… probably only make it worse for kids (I remember watching some of those animated bible stories on PBS and they were insufferable, even for myself at 6 years old).

  4. says

    Not yet a parent, but my impression is that a lot of the Veggie Tales impart good moral messages about being nice to other people, helping others, etc. In that regard, the religious element can be safely disregarded. The people who have done Veggie Tales have also done a few videos that manage to educate kids about basic science and critical thinking in some funny, roundabout ways. See for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–szrOHtR6UI wonder if that's really what has got Friel worried?

  5. says

    Wow…if these guys think Veggie Tales is making kids leave the church, why do they think hearing the story of Lot or Job would make them stay? Not to mention the part where Jesus makes a flail to beat people up with and curses a fig tree…for not having figs…out of season.

  6. says

    "Anyway, here's the thesis Todd eventually got around to presenting. Kids are leaving the church in droves because they learn the Bible in a similar context to fairy tales and other childish stories. When they outgrow the fairy tales, they outgrow the Bible as well."If only the bulk of Western humanity would…

  7. says

    I was never so much deconverted as many atheists were, my story is more of a failed conversion. My mother was absent from the church for several decades and started going again when I was 11 or 12. At that time, she enrolled me into CCD (Catholic Sunday School) where I did not have the best of experiences.I was punished several times for asking skeptical and "blasphemous" questions, and only the "bad kids" would talk to me – they had of course all known each other for many years before I dropped out of the sky.I wanted to leave the church since day one – mother forced me to get confirmed first, which I did quite grudgingly and I hadn't been back or missed those jerks since.It's hard to step outside my own head, but I think that being exposed to the stuff after I had a few years to process the idea of fact vs. fiction had something to do with my instant rejection.

  8. says

    I have to admit that I have been able to unironically enjoy Veggie Tales as an atheist adult. There are a few, believe it or not, non-religious episodes; including a spoof on Dr. Jeckyl and Mr Hyde. It was called Dr. Jiggles and Mr. Slide and it had a mix of the Nutty Professor as the fat Doctor posed as a skinny man so he could feel comfortable dancing. The moral of the story was that he should be able to dance even fat as a house.I dunno the whole absurdity tickled me the right way.Ing

  9. says

    I raised my son on a steady diet of Veggie Tales, which first hit the market when he was a toddler, so in a sense, they grew up together. And I have to admit I loved them, although I was a committed Christian at the time.Friel's right, most of the tales are reworked Old Testament stories, but they are laced with catchy tunes, witty humor, and the Intermissions called Silly Songs with Larry can't be beat. My whole family worked hard to memorize the lyrics to the popular songs so we could sing them in the car with each other.Most episodes start with a fictional "Letter to the Editor" hook with a young person asking Bob and Larry how to deal with some normal issue (jealousy among friends, scared of the dark, etc.) This leads into either the OT story retold, or else some other story from left field entirely.For example, "The Gourds Must Be Crazy" spoofs Star Trek when the Starship ApplePies is in a crisis, and the oddball crewmembers are able to save the day (which teaches the message about inclusiveness.) "Are You My Neighbor" retells the story of the Good Samaritan entirely in verse, how the citizens of Flibber-O-Loo, who throw shoes and pots at each other, can work together to help those in need.Each episode is capped off with a Bible verse (mostly OT, mostly innocuous.) All in all, if you like to watch creative people work magic–regardless of their ideology–then VeggieTales are worth a look.Honestly, as an atheist, they aren't terrible. The earlier episodes are of better quality, made by Phil Vischer and his startup production company Big Ideas Productions. It was small, committed to the craft, and tight-knit. Over time, their reach exceeded their grasp. They fell into financial difficulties and were bought out by a conglomerate that emphasized more "family values" and less "Biblical values," and the story quality declined.I'm not sure they're producing anything today, but like most everything else, the highlights are on YouTube. Start with Silly Songs with Larry to get a feel for the tone, then move on to the stories (maybe 12 minutes each) and see what you think.

  10. says

    I would say… that as we live in a more rational world, it will become increasingly difficult for fundamentalism to compete successfully for space among people's memes.I'd like to believe this, but I still think it would be safest all around to restrict their influence on public policy.

  11. says

    "I don't think the cuteness of VeggieTales is the problem. I think it's an attempted solution to the underlying problem, which is that the Bible stories are childish and shouldn't make all that much sense to grownups."I love this sentence; it couldn't be said any better.

  12. says

    I like it too, but the problem is the stories in question both ARE childish and DO make sense to grown-ups. The problem for believers is that the sense they DO make, the awareness they provoke, is one of "This is Bronze Age nonsense!" rather than "This is surely the Voice of God!"

  13. says

    I first took note that Veggie Tales even existed by way of a parody within the Drawn Together cartoon. Ironically, Drawn Together's parody made the Veggies into fire-and-brimstone fundamentalists, and when one of them snaps and decides to rid the world of sin (in that episode mainly masturbation), the results aren't pretty.

  14. says

    Todd Friel = grade A moronWretched Radio would be humorous to listen to if it wasn't so scary…

  15. says

    For example, "The Gourds Must Be Crazy" spoofs Star Trek when the Starship ApplePies is in a crisis, and the oddball crewmembers are able to save the day (which teaches the message about inclusiveness.)Somehow, I can just imagine it: Enterprise with a pie for the saucer section.Anyway, one of the things that started my steady end was finding the not-so-friendly sides to the often diluted stories.Cartoon: "Pharoh was a slaver and was too stubborn to let the Hebrews leave to live free."Me: "Jerk."Actual: "Pharoh was a slaver, but God made him stubborn and unable to reconsider, so that God could show off his glory and penis size by sending otherwise unnecessary plagues and drowning them in the Red Sea."Me: *Spittake* That's just wrong on so many levels!

  16. says

    Ive always viewed Veggie Tales as Christian propaganda cleverly disguised as quasi-secular childrens programming. A way to sneak their beliefs in through the back door if you will.

  17. says

    education leads kids to drop their faith.I had a long discussion with my dad on 9/11 about how this seems to be a universal truth: That the least educated cling of fear and religion. This is such an important point, I wish there were an easy way to express it or prove it.

  18. says

    I had something along the line of Xena's experience; I was almost ridiculously religious, but reading the Bible from an early age, especially the infamous story of the concubine from the end of Judges, snapped me out of it. To be fair, so did the general uncoolness of the whole Church scene, but… :-P

  19. says

    This Friel guy is an idiot! He is the most ridiculous "representative" that God has out there! First off, God is not a wrathful vengeful God. GOD IS LOVE! Second, he is a neo-traditionalist, "lets get back to the LAW" fanatic! If you fear for your soul, you will not listen to another word this "Bob Larson" wannabe says!

  20. says

    The bible contains "offensive" material.It contains true historical events involving real people who do many offensive things.Jesus tried to drive away people who were half hearted.He did not sugar coat the truth.If you have a distorted understanding of the bible, the best way to fix that is to read it.God makes no apology, He gives life and he takes it away.May he be merciful to you as he has been to me.

  21. says

    I love the way you athiests dribble, its really entertaining. You have no idea what it means to find the simplicity that is found in Christ. No idea of the corrupted and false teachings that have spread like a cancer into Christianity that is warned about over and over by Christ himself and the letters in the new testament.I really like athiests now as you do help to expose the erroneous doctrines within the walls of Christianity that having nothing to do with the Gospel and message that Christ taught.You all sit in your comfortable fairy tale western society houses with to much food that most of you need to go on diets living your lives of luxury.Come with me to the slums of Kenya, Nigeria or China away from your big fat personal gain corrupted television evangelists, Christian cults and Liberals who only shame Christ and experience The truth found in Christ once you have met true believers in Christ. I've been studying you lot for a while and until you have the ability to sieve through 90% of the garbage that has crept into Western Christianity you will never ever know what your talking about, never.At the very least thank you for being a part of what the greatest Christian reformers did and that was help flush out everything that Jesus told would creep into the church like a cancer that is none other than falsehood.Heres a tip for you athiests to help you graduate from your kidergrten knowledge of true Christianity – At least find out what this actually means:For the time will come when men (christians) will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

  22. says

    So, because there are poor people in the world, your perspective on Christianity is true? Tell us, then, what do you believe and why do you believe it?By the way, nice blog.

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