Reviewing Veggie Tales as an Atheist; Josh and the Big Wall, Part 1

This episode  opens with a letter from a kid who was told not to beat people up, which he thinks sucks, because sometimes other people are mean and he just wants to give them a pounding. Scary kid. Larry and Bob turn this into a lesson on why its important to follow God’s directions even when you don’t want to. That way this kid will understand that no matter how much he wants to punch people in the face, he shouldn’t, because God doesn’t condone violence.

So they tell the story of the destruction of Jericho, where God commands the Israelites destroy an entire city and slaughter its inhabitants.

Interesting choice, but okay.

Now, understand, when I say slaughter, I don’t even mean a slaughter by ancient barbaric Biblical times. Back then, at least there was a decent probability of women and children being spared. The elderly and sick might not be killed. Even some fighting men might be taken as slaves. This isn’t good, but it’s a non-death alternative. Not so with the Israelite conquest of Israel. Because God doesn’t want his chosen people contaminated with other religions, they are commanded to kill everyone. Joshua 6:21, NIV; “They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” One family is spared; that of Rahab the prostitute. See, she heard some stories about God that freaked her out, and she said, “hey, if I help your spies out, can I not die?” And lo, they said, “sure, I guess, why not?”

Okay, I had issues with this episode. Its not that its a bad episode. Like most Veggie Tales fare, its witty, goofy, well paced and full of catchy songs. It also happens to be focused on the moral that, more than any other, gives me issues with my Christian upbringing. The episode explicitly tells us, from the opening scene to the end and all through the middle, that we must always follow God’s directions, no matter how scary, unpleasant, or hard to understand.

It also bowdlerizes the crap out of the whole genocide part of the story, which means one of two things. The first is that the creators thought about how if small children like me heard that God commanded the slaughter of so many, we might question whether he was the good God they were marketing to us, and not believe in him. The second is that they themselves never thought of the people who the Israelites slaughtered as actual human beings. They never bothered to consider the story from their point of view. I do not know which explanation bothers me more.

You know, there’s too much ranting to do on this piece. I’m just going to get through the rest of the episode, and save part two to get into the complexities of the Euthyphro dilemma.

So anyway, the story opens with Larry playing Joshua, heir to Moses, about to lead the Israelites into Israel. They actually arrived in the area about forty years ago, but they’ve been sitting out in the desert as a punishment. Punishment for what? Well, after they arrived, they sent some spies into the Promised Land, where they observed that the people who lived there were kind of large and strong and well fed, compared to the exhausted Israelite people who had been wandering in the desert for years. This scared them. So God gently reminded them of all the things he’s done for them and gave them a miraculous sign to reassure them.

No, sorry, actually he punished them all by making them sit out in the desert for forty years, where there was hardly any food and also a lot of them died without ever getting to live in this land he promised they would get to live in. Because they were tired and exhausted and scared.

Veggie Tales, being lighthearted fare for kids, introduces this with a lighthearted song about how all the Israelites are so excited to leave, on account of being really, really hungry.

Upon entering Israel they run straight into Jericho, which is manned by snarky French Peas in intimidating hats. Clearly this will not do, but the Israelites aren’t exactly equipped for a siege. God gives the Israelites the directions to march around the city for seven days and then on the final day blow their horns and yell. Then he’ll knock the walls down for them. Yeah, the walking doesn’t have any direct causal effect on the walls. Really God just wanted to watch them tap dance a bit before he did anything.

I feel obligated to give you all this link of the French Peas singing before dropping slushies on the Israelites’ heads.

There isn’t much of a plot; just the Israelites being tempted to give in and go back and being urged on because God’s way is always the best way (if you exclude the perspective of invaded peoples, of course). There is enough clever dialog to make this work without being boring. In the end, they do the trumpeting rendition and, the way the animation is done, the walls explode kind of like popcorn, which I liked. Standing in the rubble is nobody except a few French Peas who run free, leaving the Israelites to complain about how bad the dust is for their contacts. People being driven from their homes is funny!

Bob and Larry wrap this up by reiterating to the kid that God’s plan is always right, and you should always do what he tells you. They don’t add that there’s totally a precedent for God’s way being “murder. A lot. Basically commit genocide.”

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9 thoughts on “Reviewing Veggie Tales as an Atheist; Josh and the Big Wall, Part 1

  1. This kind of story makes me raise my eyebrows way up into my hairline, too. Or Noah’s ark, of course. Which is used as a SOOTHING THEME FOR NURSERIES. “Everyone drowned, children! Including babies and children and cute little animals! Parents panicked, trying to save their children, but were unsuccessful! It probably took kind of a long time, too: rain doesn’t build up that fast. Good night!”

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  2. This makes me want to find historical information about this, if any exists, as well as some theological exploration of the story (which, as you well know you don’t generally get from the pew). I *have* discussed it just briefly with ministers and similar, and have never talked to anybody who was anything but disturbed by it. Of course, they were all me-types, who find it difficult to consider this kind of destruction.
    I have done some academic reading on the flood (agreed that it’s just a god-awful bedtime story, although the Madelaine L’Engle novel about it was super) and that one I feel like I have a much better handle on- it’s less terrifying as a metaphor, although without question, big floods of any kind are devastating. But, you know, it’s not a literal whole-world-everyone-dies phenomenon. (Archaeological evidence shows that there was a large flood in what the writers would have considered “the whole world, guys!!”, but lots of places flood, which is why we aren’t the only ones with a flood myth. I’m comfortable calling it a myth.) We can discuss when you get home 🙂

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