I am a big comic book fan; primarily Superman, but we'll get into that later. And I am in the process of passing down this love to my sons as any parent does with something that they enjoy. Our oldest has been able to identify most of the major DC superheroes since he was two and a half. He knows the Ninja Turtles. He has a toy Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and Darkseid (weird choice, I know, but the dark lord came with Superman). We are on our way.
But here's the thing: he doesn't really know what Superman or the Ninja Turtles do. He knows that they are good guys and that they stop bad guys, but he doesn't know how they stop bad guys. He doesn't know that Superman, who is generally one of the most kid-friendly and hopeful superheroes out there, typically solves problems by super punching evildoers into submission or that Donatello uses that "stick" to whale on members of the Foot Clan.
Obviously, violence is not something that we want to teach our boys. We're trying to teach Jim that it is not good to hit his brother. So it may be unhelpful if he discovers that Jim and Daddy's favorite superhero often does hit people. "But Superman is stopping evil villains bent on destroying other lives," you might say, "and that's totally different than hitting your brother." True, but there is no greater evil to a four year old than his toddler brother running off with one of his toy cars.
Of course, this all goes deeper than that. I am probably too cynical to be an out-and-out pacifist, but I do believe that following the way of Jesus leads one to a posture of non-violence. So why do I enjoy these things? That's a good question and I could get into a conversation with you about myth, metaphor, and the battle between good and evil. Yet it's still a good question I should ask myself. But I digress. We want to raise our boys with the conviction that we don't hurt people.
So do you just not let the kids play superheroes and watch cartoons and learn about all of that stuff? That seems like an overreaction and a lot of this is typical young parent panic. After all, I was raised with these characters. I was a huge Ninja Turtles fan growing up. The first Superman comic I read was one in which the Man of Steel punched a massive boney gray monster until they both died. And I am not a violent person. I am likely more worried about this than I ought to be. Odds are we will still let them play with superheroes and talk with them about violence and peacemaking as we go along.
Yet there is this larger question I am wondering about as we raise our boys: How do you raise your children to follow a way that goes against the prevailing culture? We live in a violence-saturated society and lest you think I am just talking about movies and television, keep in mind that there are churches with MMA ministries (in which the object is to beat your opponent into submission) and others where they are having assault rifle giveaways.
That's just violence. How does one raise a child with a Christian ethic concerning sex without turning it into rampant legalism? How do you keep children from becoming consumeristic in a world (and again unfortunately, the church at times) where the Almighty is typically the Dollar?
There is a temptation to just go Amish (side note: lots of respect for the Amish) and create a world apart. But does that really help them navigate the world where all of this stuff happens? It sort of negates the whole "be in the world, but not of the world" thing too.
By the way, if you're wondering if I have some sort of solution to this quandary: I don't. It is simply something I wonder about often. Jesus calls his followers to be countercultural--and actually countercultural in ways that is different from the ways in which the American church feel like it's to be countercultural--and that is incredibly difficult.