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.