One of the BIGGEST mistakes my parents made with me, and one of the reasons I became Atheist, is that they introduced me to "Children's Bibles" and brought me to "Sunday School" and other such "Children's Bible lessons" by the time I was 3 years old. [The preschool they sent me to was actual IN the church they currently go to... and trust me... the teachers would read us "Bible Stories" every school day.] Of course, as a child, I saw nothing wrong with what they were doing. Being like most young children, I took my adult authority figures at their word because I had the very common childish impression that they were infallible.
And this is EXACTLY the problem!
Well... actually there is a couple of problems with introducing children to religion early.
1. First of all, there is the so-called "Children's Bibles." As with many "child versions" of adult story books, they are translated into language that children can understand, and by doing this [with any classic novel or religious/ secular adult text] the author[s] take important points/ symbols/ meanings out of the text. Trust me! The "Youth Edition" of many classical novels never really gives the real novel it's due.
The second problem that arises with "Children's Bibles" is very much related to the other one, except, perhaps even more harmful! All of the "Children's Bibles" I've looked at have left out or watered down stories in the Bible that would be considered "upsetting," or "inappropriate," or "that the child could not understand." This defeats the whole purpose of allowing the child a chance for a fair and accurate assessment of the Bible!
For example, I will take the same "watered-down" story from a "Children's Bible" that my parents gave me when I was little, and compare it to the text in one of the "standard adult versions."
From the Children's Bible "The Hosanna Bible":
From the Old Testament Daniel 5:
Entitled: "A Secret Message"
"Many years later, the king's [Nebuchadnezzar's] son had a big party to honor the false gods. He used golden cups that were stolen from the Lord's temple. Suddenly the hand of God wrote a message on the wall. Everyone was afraid. The wise men in the kingdom could not understand the writing. So the king' son [same person] sent for Daniel because he knew how to explain dreams. 'If you can read this writing, I will give you a great reward,' the king told Daniel. 'Please, keep your gifts," Damiel said. 'You have offended the Most High God," Daniel told the king's son [still same person]. 'You have used His holy things in a wrong way. God has sent a message to tell you that your kingdom will be taken away from you.' And God's words came true." - The Hosanna Bible pages 214 - 216.
Before I compare this watered down version with the "real" [if you can call it that] one, I want to take a minute to note the pictures in the story, which I will describe to you. The reason for this is because, for a young child, pictures can have just as much significance, or more, than any text.
1. On the first page, the picture is of three rich "cartoon" men at a feast turning in surprise to look at a wall.
2. On the second page, the picture is of a palace wall [in cartoon format] where a huge cartoon hand coming out of a cloud in a burst of golden light points to a cryptic message which is shining on the wall. The message reads, "MENE MENE TEKEL PARSIN."
3. On the third page is a cartoon picture of the author's interpretation of Daniel smiling with his hands clasped in prayer while looking at the glowing message on the wall. [see above] below him, toward the bottom of the picture the cartoon depiction of the "King's son" is being led away as a prisoner by two royal guards.
Let's compare this to the same story in the "adult" version!
From the "Holy Bible":
Daniel 5: 1 - 30
"King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in front of the thousand. Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and silver which Nebuchadnezzer his father had taken out of the temple of Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought in the golden and silver vessels which had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
Immediately the finders of a man's hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace, opposite the lampstand; and the king saw the hand as it wrote. Then the king's color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; and his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king cried aloud to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans , and the astrologers. The king said to the wise men of Babylon, 'Whoever reads this writingm and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.' Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king its interpretation. Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color changed; and his lords were perplexed.
The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall; the queen said, 'O king, live for ever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change. There is in your kingdom a man in whom is the spirit of holy gods. In the days of your father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father, made him chief or the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, because an excellent spirit, knowlege, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve puzzles were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.'
Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king said to Daniel, 'You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah. I have heard of you that the spirit of the holy gods is in youm and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation; but they could not show the interpretations of the matter. But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple, and shall have a chain of gold about your neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.'
Then Daniel answered before the king, 'Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; nevertheless I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty; and because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him; whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive; whome he would he raised up, and whom he would he put down. But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him; he was driven from among men, an his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild asses; he was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of men, and sets over it whom he will. And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew ll this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven; and the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and your concubines have drunk wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.'
'Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARIN. This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighted in the balances and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.'
Then Belshazzar commanded, and Daniel was clothed in purple, a chain of gold was put about his neck, and proclamation was made concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old."
As any sensible person would know a young elementary school child, who is most likely in the process of learning to read, could not possibly read and understand a text such as the one above. The authors of the "Hosanna Bible," and many other "Children's Bibles" have attempted to overcome this and introduce children to the Christian Biblical doctrine by creating things like the passage cited above the "adult" one. However, I seriously do NOT think that this should be done! When the Bible is "cherry-picked," and "watered-down" like that, it takes away much of the underlying meaning as well as the overall tone [or emotional color] of the story. A child could be easily mislead by the waterdown passage and then, when they reach the age to be able to read the real one, become shocked and horrified upon learning "the truth" of what's actually IN the real Bible. This is what happened to me, and this is one of the number one reasons I lost my faith in High School. When I began reading the "real" Bible [middle school and high school age is about the earliest that a child can comprehend hidden meanings and symbols behind religious stories to even a SMALL degree.] I became disillusioned and digusted with my faith and my religious text. Not only did the stories cease to make sense, but they portrayed horrible discrimination and crimes, as well as portraying god [in parts] as a murderous, vengeful tyrant! I felt like I had been lied to and betrayed all those years befor high school when the church [and my parents] were bringing me up in "the faith." Unfortunately, I still have trouble forgiving them for this. So, by this point, since "Children's Bible's" don't tell the whole truth, and don't bring REAL understanding of the stories, they can be considered malignant to the child's intellectual and spiritual development!
Because young children are unable to understand even basic crucial fundamental concepts of biblical stories, and also because, due to their immature minds; they have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy, I think that children should NOT be introduced to the Bible or it's accompanying religion AT ALL until they are mature enough to handle it and understand it [at least enough to get the REAL picture out of it].
Modern Developmental Psychology sometimes goes by the model fo cognitive development laid down by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. According to Piaget, children usually do not develop the ability to think beyond concrete physical [literal] objects and concepts before age 11, at least. From age 11 into early adulthood, it is THEN that a person learns how to understand and be "able to perform hypothetical and abstract reasoning." Meaning, up until about middle-school age [on average] children have difficulty understanding complex and abstract concepts like "the way people thought at that time," and symbolism [which is prevelant throughout the Bible], as well as they have difficulty understanding the difference between what is real and what is fantasy. [By the way, if you have a child, don't be insulted by this! Cognitive development stages don't have anything to do with intelligence!]
Another Problem comes from the psychology on the deveopment of ethics and morality!
Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg built on Piaget's thinking to make a table of the development of morality. He identified three stages: 1. Preconventional moality - morality is based on a focus of whether one will be punished or reqarded. 2. Conventional Morality - morality that is marked by a focus on societal values. [Kohlberg said that few adults get past this stage and into the last one]. 3. Postconventional Morality - morality that is marked by a focus on internal moral principles that transcend society. [What's right is what accords with fundamental human rights and values, whats wrong is what contracdicts these rights and values.]
Given this, it can be said, that for much of early childhood a child has a morality/ ethics system that is FAR more underdeveloped than adults. How then can a child accurately comprehend the complex, symbolic, and abstract moral notions in the Bible?!
So in conclusion: Children should NOT be introduced to the Bible [in any form] before the minimum of age 12!
Just a thought...
Let me know what you think! ;D