January 10, 2013

Kindness Counts by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Kindness Counts (The Berenstain Bears)Kindness Counts by Jan Berenstain and Mike Berenstain

My rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Kindness Counts is an installment in the Berenstain Bear's Living Lights line. And the Living Lights line is a mindbogglingly nonsensical and oftentimes offensive bundle of shit.

Stan Berenstain was a Jew. His wife, Jan, was an Episcopalian (Christian). Hence the reason religion was not part of the Berenstain Bears for many, many years.

Right up until Stan died. At that point, his son Mike took his place as partner to his mother... and promptly shoehorned a "Christian" moral into every goddamned thing ever. Makes me wonder how his Jewish father would react.

The Living Lights line, then, is the center of this explosion of Christianity into the series. There is so much wrong with this, I hardly know where to start.

If you want to read your children Christian-themed books, go for it. If Mike Berenstain wants to write Christian-themed books, he should go for it, too. What he should not be doing is redefining a decades-old and much beloved series, shoehorning religion into a setting where it has never been and does not belong, and thus excluding vast percentages of the population. Did he stop to think about the Jewish fans of the Berenstain Bears? The Pagan fans? The athiest, antitheist, or agnostic fans? The Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist fans? The [insert other religion, spirituality, or philosophy here] fans? I'm thinking he didn't, or else he just didn't care.

If you want to teach Christianity as a religion, go for it. The Living Lights series endeavors to teach aspects of Christianity to children, and that's totally cool. If that's your deal, go for it. The Living Lights series has The Berenstsain Bears: God Loves You!, The Berenstain Bears Go to Sunday School, The Berenstain Bears Say Their PrayersThe Berenstain Bears Discover God's Creation, The Berenstain Bears Show God's Love, Berenstain Bears Storybook Bible, and The Berenstain Bears: Here's the Church, Here's the Steeple, among others, to suit all your at-home worship needs.

If you want to teach people lessons about kindness, friendship, hard work and perseverance, community involvement, and the like, go for it...

But don't tell put those lessons under the heading "Christian".
Those are not "Christian" morals. The lesson of not being an asshole has nothing whatsoever to do with the Abrahamic god, the Hindu gods, the Greek gods, or any other god, spirit, or entity that humanity has ever worshiped. To imply that kindness and community are somehow "Christian" in nature is to imply that non-Christians lack these morals or traits, and that can be described as nothing other than offensive.

For decades, the Berenstain Bears didn't have a problem with this. Sure, I disagreed with quite a number of their morals, finding them laughably stereotypical, condescending, and/or overly simplified. But they were morals that encompass their audience as a heterogeneous culture, not a homogeneous creed. They didn't seek to exclude anyone or to address any one group specifically. And they certainly didn't subtly imply that one group is somehow morally superior to everyone else that has ever existed.

The Living Lights series, or at least the half that isn't directly dealing with the Abrahamic god or Christian worship, is downright rude. So here's an FYI: "Kindness Counts" for all people, not just the people who worship your particular deity or read your particular religious text.

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