In Theory

Wal-Mart is test-marketing biblical action figures — Jesus, Moses, Mary, Noah, David and Samson among them. And Target will do the same on its website. There is at least some concern, however, among consumers — parents — that such figures may prompt children to equate biblical heroes and heroines with secular figures. And while some may see the action figures as a learning tool, others may see them as gag gifts. What do you think of the idea of biblical action figures?

I think the inspirational heroes of the Bible should hold at least as much prominence in a child’s eyes as, say, Spider-Man or Shaquille O’Neal. This goal may not be easy to achieve, since there are so many colorful figures vying for the limited attention span of a child in today’s fast-paced, media-driven environment. Like the rest of us, children are constantly bombarded by vast quantities of marketing and publicity for rather unimportant figures such as pop icons, movie stars, fictional characters and others. Arguably, these biblical action figures do lack taste — nevertheless, we should probably harness every means available to raise children’s awareness of religious and moral principles.

Today, Jews the world over are celebrating Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.

Central to the concept of seeking and offering forgiveness is a commitment to building a better tomorrow, and an essential theme of this holiest day on the Jewish calendar is education. Educating our children to realize what is truly important in life — and to ignore that which is insignificant — is a key to creating happier, healthier and more grounded adults.

The ultimate responsibility for educating the next generation lies with parents. While giving a child a biblical action figure serves a constructive purpose, it cannot substitute for authentic religious instruction and adherence to ritual — such as attending services on Yom Kippur. Children learn by example, and the one their parents set will have a major influence on their spiritual well-being.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN

Chabad Jewish Center

The idea of biblical action figures doesn’t really offend me; I’m not crazy about the concept, but I’m not offended.

What does irritate me, though, is Wal-Mart or any business being so cynical as to market some money-making scheme in the South. Are the Wal-Mart corporate types of the opinion that those south of the Mason-Dixon line are more gullible than the rest of us? Or do they simply think that religious schlock will sell better in the South? If I were a Southerner, I think I’d be offended if religious icons went on sale in Nashville but not in New York.

I’m reminded of journalist H. L. Mencken’s comment about a century ago; he said that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. Wal-Mart must subscribe to Mencken’s quip.

THE REV. C. L. “SKIP” LINDEMAN

Congregational Church

of the Lighted Window

United Church of Christ

La Cañada Flintridge

All superheroes possess supernatural abilities to overcome the laws of physics while righting wrongs and defending the innocent. Kids love this stuff because so often they feel helpless in a world where adults are always frightening them with warnings about strangers and reminding them about that child from the news who was abducted and never found. So, playtime adventures with poseable plastic legends provide a haven of escape for them, as they imagine themselves defeating the arch enemies of kidkind and upholding the virtues of truth, justice and the American way. We’ve all been there.

The superhero stories and the action figures they inspire, however, are usually a veiled nod of exaggerated pride to man’s perceived greatness. The X-Men, for example, are just the next best phase of supposed human evolution. Spider-Man, the Hulk and such are the result of our advanced radioactive technologies, albeit gone awry. And some, like Batman, are just wealthy enough to buy all the gadgets that make them super. None of these are especially great role models, and all lie outside the sphere of reality.

But then there’s Jesus. He reversed death, healed the inoperable, walked on water and changed the same into wine, passed through walls, raised Himself from the grave, and ascended into Heaven. That’s a superhero, and that’s supernatural. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s God-Man; God incarnate, the Author of life, the only One who is truly Almighty! That’s an action figure from which kids can draw real strength. The other marketed Bible characters were just ordinary people, like us, who derived their own amazing superpowers from Him. Because Jesus is real, and alive, and these action figures represent real people who encountered Him, youngsters can imagine reality. Playtime can actually enrich a child’s soul, and I’m for that.

THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM

Senior Pastor

MontroseCommunity Church.org

God wants us to train our children in His ways. This means helping them focus their playtime thoughts on whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, on whatever is excellent and praiseworthy. Biblical action figures would help our children do just that.

Instead of having them role-play as violent aliens or demonic creatures, our children would role-play in ways that are actually beneficial to them and honoring to God. I see how children would be encouraged to learn the biblical accounts of the “great cloud of witnesses” that went before us. To have a Moses action figure begs the question: What did Moses do?

The “heroes of the faith” weren’t superhuman. They were real people who lived out God’s ways in spite of their personal weaknesses because they relied on God’s strength. Toys in their likeness could inspire our children to become overcomers through faith in the same God their heroes worshiped.

I have to wonder about a Jesus action figure, though. I’d hate to see His likeness relegated to the bottom of the toy box, or chewed up by the family pet.

PASTOR JON BARTA

Valley Baptist Church Burbank

There are few things that irritate me more than a plastic Jesus. I can’t speak for the other “action figures,” but when it comes to Jesus, I wish they would leave him alone. It’s bad enough that most people have an image of God as an old man in the sky ready to swoop down to save us from ourselves, smack the bad guys on the head and reward the good with homes behind pearly gates. He’s become a combination of Superman and Santa Claus. And when He doesn’t deliver, watch out! We become unforgiving and take our “business” elsewhere.

Now, imagine God sitting on a shelf at Target or Wal-Mart. I can’t.

In the Armenian Orthodox tradition, we reference God as “Khorhoort,” which literally means “Mystery.” He is inscrutable. Why do the spires of our churches reach up to the heavens, beyond where our vision can take us? How can we then presume to contain in words, images or plastic models His essence? A bend-him-up Jesus will only further confuse a population that needs to find the essence of Love rather than a message of might-is-right.

But alas, capitalism does rule the day, and there is no doubt in my mind that if there is a profit margin, then there will be no stopping Wal-Mart, Sears, Target, Mattel or Hasbro (just to name the tip of the iceberg).

Last year, when talking to a group of kids at Burbank High School about their values, I brought it to their attention that most of our ideas are shaped by models presented to us by the media.

A couple of teachers were shocked when I suggested that in America, money is even more powerful than God.

Tragically, we keep seeing it over and over. Plastic Jesuses are not created to teach values, morals or even religion. They are created to make a quick buck.

FR. VAZKEN MOVSESIAN

Armenian Church

In His Shoes Mission


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