Since we are traditional Catholics with an appreciation for that which brings us closer to God, rather than what pushes us away, there is always a concern about what we expose ourselves and our children to. We seek out the traditional, the modest, and the conservative, and often times it is in the process of this seeking that we are reaffirmed in our convictions as traditional Catholics. We see things that don’t raise our souls to God and we rue the fact that there is so little available for us.
Recently I had just such a “reaffirmation.” While searching for Catholic coloring pages, again I was disgusted to find that 99% of “religious” pictures, even those toting themselves as Catholic, depicted Our Lord and the saints as ridiculous disproportionate and vulgar caricatures of humans. And if it’s not club-fingered and balloon-like- features Jesus, it’s over the top superhero Jesus with rippling muscles and chiseled jaw.
I can only attribute these ridiculous renditions to an attempt at secularizing the Divine. They are all a version of “What if God was one of us?” But the question leaves out the implication intended, “What if God was one of us without His Divine Nature?” Because it is impossible that anyone would imagine Our Lord, being both human and Divine, the way He is presented in modern children's art and literature.. Apparently the current Christian stance holding sway with the public at large is that He would be super-friendly, super-human, super-nice. Never mind that He was unafraid to “lay down the law” as Matt Walsh so truthfully states here.
He was one of us, in His humanity, but because of His Divine nature, there is a dignity owed to the person of Christ which necessarily precludes treating Him as a merely better version of ourselves. Superhero Jesus doesn’t cut it. He was and is more than that, infinitely more.
I don’t want my childrens’ reverence for Christ and His Church to be the fluffy, nice sentiments of a cartoon Jesus with a great big goofy smile, or the worldly reverence of a world wrestler fan club. I don’t think the representation of Our Lord to children as a comic clownish hand-shaker or a pumped up rock star compels them to consider Him in the light of King and God. Just when did treating Christ as a mockery and a buffoon in our art, even if it’s just in our coloring pages and children’s books, become the norm – didn’t He receive enough of that during His Passion? Does anyone actually buy into the idea that garish ugly cartoon equates to “bringing religion down to their level”? In actuality all it does is bring it down, period.
Let’s not “dumb down” religion under the exchange of simplicity with simple-mindedness. Simplicity doesn’t mean ugly or stupid. It’s insulting to a child’s intellect and in opposition of our hopes for them. Much in the same way Curious George’s patronizing idiotic episodes make a pretense of learning and self-discovery (monkeys are somehow more intelligent than 8-10 yr. old boys), religious art and books for children make a pretense of religion and the beautiful. Beautiful illustrations in children’s religious books and art have almost disappeared in the misguided notion that children “can’t relate.” But it’s not true. Every human can relate to and desire the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Act like they are too stupid to understand, and for sure, they won’t understand; act like they are too young, immature, or intellectually simplistic to appreciate religion, and they won’t. I am convinced children have a greater capacity for sanctity than I, for one, gave them credit. Shouldn’t we do everything we can to foster that rather than trivialize and lessen it by presenting religion as a simple minded goofy joke? Right Religion isn’t about fun time. It has an inherent dignity and beauty that, yes, even children can appreciate. Why set them up for failure? Expect more. Publishers, please step up.
An old insight, and one to bear in mind in situations like this, is that children's activities are seldom designed with a view towards improving the children; they're designed to make the adults think the children are adorable. The "child's world," that vaunted creation which Late Western Civilization prides itself upon, that pastel and plastic world-feeling which informs everything from Walt Disney animated features to the architecture of playground equipment, exists basically to serve as a hypnotic for jaded adults.
Furthermore, since around the middle of the 19th century, popular religious sentiment has functioned in more or less the same capacity, viz. as a palliative, a catharsis, a ritual drama to ease the tensions of the modern mind which finds itself very much addled by the demand to conform to the increasingly rigid strictures of modern society. With very few people being the wiser, religion was most expertly penetrated and reorganized into an established cult of utilitarian socialism (not without the willing assistance of the majority of the faithful, which amounts to a surrender of principle); thus its almost exclusive focus nowadays on the state-sanctioned "problems" of social justice and civil rights.
When these two filaments, the "child's world" and socialistic religion, already flowing in the same direction and conducing to the same ends, begin to attract, entrain, and intertwine one another, the result is the "goofy Jesus" you mentioned, a chimera so sickly sweet that the child's natural response upon seeing it would be to fall asleep, to give way to an insulin coma as part of a last-ditch effort to protect his vital organs from further damage.
There is every reason to usher children away from such goofiness, every reason to educate them in the comprehension of true Christianity. But be warned: the larger social currents which would fain impose upon them the opposite ideals have in no wise abated. To train children (especially boys) in true Christianity means nothing less than to raise up the men who will one day war against the stultifying secular society. Not conformist types, not groomed and cossetted mandarins, not eligible careerists, not "tame lions," but lords of fearful aspect, intelligent, active, indefatigably righteous with all the terrible ruthlessness implied therein. The breeding and training of such a cadre is one of the necessary tasks of Traditional Catholic communities today. It is not for everybody, certainly; but it must needs be for some if the rest are to enjoy a tolerable existence. Otherwise our continuance in the faith will be merely accidental, a tenuous relation, something easily disturbed and dissolved by the enticements of "the world," by the need to get along and have a pleasant life under the given circumstances.
So much indeed begins with a coloring book. After all, Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.