I never heard the song “Jesus Loves Me” until my children were born, raised a little bit, and sent off to Sunday School. This was before I decided I was an atheist; though, in all fairness, it was to my wife’s church we sent them, which I never joined. Apparently, this little ditty was not part of the Roman Catholic repertoire that I was exposed to from kindergarten through adulthood. I’m sure that if Jesus existed, given the qualities attributed to him, he most certainly loved little children. I know I do, and I know very few people who don’t, and since, presumably we are made in his image, the converse would be true. The image of Jesus must contain attributes of love towards little children. See for example, Matthew 19:14 or Mark 10:14:
But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
I have no problem with this. If there is a god, he damn well better love little children. And big children, and adults and animals, and everything else he supposedly created. No, my problem is the next line of the song. Remember?
Jesus loves me, this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
they are weak but He is strong.
What exactly are we teaching kids with this song? We’re teaching them to know that Jesus loves them, and on what basis are they to rest this knowledge? The Bible. A book. A multi-thousand year old book. Is this a good thing? Does the Pope shit in the woods? You can probably guess where I stand on this. Especially when the rest of the song lyrics acknowledges that the little ones are weak.
As an atheist, and more specifically, as a person who relies on evidence before I come to conclusions, I think that it is the hallmark of critical thinking to reject anything in a book, until I am satisfied that the book is authoritative, or until I’m shown evidence to the contrary. This means any book. I’ve learned this because over the years, I’ve read books that I took to heart and believed, and found out later weren’t worthy of belief. Yes, once we’ve reached a certain level of education and understanding of human credulity, we can start relying on books written by people commonly understood to be authorities in their respective fields, (school text books, for instance, which have been analyzed and vetted by knowledgeable people) . There’s only so much research any human can do to verify everything that we read.
The question is, should we be teaching our children that what they read is true, simply because it’s in a book? Shouldn’t childhood be that time when we start teaching our children to question everything, to not take anything at face value? Isn’t this the beginning of mindless indoctrination. “Here, kids. Here’s a book that is true in all regards. Don’t listen to those naysayers who deny it.” Since the Bible is clearly, on it’s face, not true in all regards, consisting of multiple internal inconsistencies, explanations of the world and the history of mankind that don’t jive with modern scientific facts, and extremely immoral actions and behaviors by the characters contained in it, how can we adults, in good conscience, teach children a song that they should presume something to be true because the Bible says so?
First of all, we have no real idea who wrote the Bible. With regard to the Old Testament, the authorship of the first five books were attributed to Moses, but again, we have only the Bible as evidence that Moses himself actually existed. The Bible claims, for instance, that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, but there is no independent historical or archaeological evidence that there were ever any Israelites in Egypt in the first place, at any time. Then there’s the little problem of Moses writing about his own death in Deuteronomy. Clearly, much of the OT is disputable, on the veracity of authorship alone.
To listen to Christians, however, there seems to be no problem with this, because God “inspired” authorship. See here, where this Christian notes that
“Who wrote the Bible” is a question that can be definitively answered by examining the biblical texts in light of the external evidences that supports its claims. 2 Timothy 3:16 states that “All scripture is inspired by God….” In 2 Peter 1:20-21, Peter reminds the reader to “know this first of all, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, … but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”The Bible itself tells us that it is God who is the author of His book.
Hmmmm. External evidences. So the Bible was inspired by god which we know because the Bible tells us that the Bible was inspired by god which we know because the Bible….Whoops! Gotta get off this merry-go-round.
What about the New Testament? We know that someone named Paul wrote many of the letters, or Epistles, to the various new Churches that were popping up around the Mediterranean. But Paul never met Jesus (except perhaps during an epileptic seizure on the road to Damascus). We also know that the four Gospels were probably not written by any Apostles or disciples named Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but it’s unclear who. Not knowing the author of a work, especially one that’s two thousand years old, makes it especially difficult to determine the veracity of the contents. We don’t know where the information in the NT came from, we don’t know the motivations of the author in writing them (and there could be many that affect the truth of the NT), and in particular, we don’t have any independent sources that corroborate the information we are told to believe absolutely. Finally, as Bart Ehrman has noted, we don’t even have the original works of the authors – only copies of copies of copies than have been changed and revised and added to and subtracted from depending on the ideology, temperment and whim of the transcriber.
Second of all, the process of singing a little song like “Jesus loves me” is actually a form of teaching. The aim of good teaching should be to open the minds of the student, and get them to use their brains. Teaching is actually brain exercise. Teachers teach so that students, when they are older, can figure life out by themselves, without having to rely on others. If that’s true, doesn’t teaching them to mindlessly accept something “because I say so” counter-productive? Isn’t “…for the bible tells me so” code for “turn your brain off, accept truth on the say-so of my book”?
This song, “Jesus Loves Me”, is an example of the beginning of indoctrination in the Christian mindset, and it’s insidious because it is a song learned by young children, who have not reached the age of reason, and who trust their elders, their parents and family, their church, to tell them the truth, and teach them the way to think. Instead, they are being taken advantage of because “they are weak but He is strong”. As a result, many of them will grow up believing that the best and only way to point to the truth of their religious convictions is to point to the Bible, little knowing how circular their reasoning is being trained.
So, I propose new lyrics for this song.
Jesus Loves me, this I say
for I saw him yesterday
Nothing like irrefutable, visual evidence, eh?