The Church of Daniel Tiger

the pieta

the pieta

As the parent of two small kids, I watch a lot of cartoons. Most of them are terrible, but some of them are truly great. Daniel Tiger, a PBS show for preschoolers, teaches children (and parents) emotional intelligence through a series of bizarrely auto-tuned yet irresistibly catchy jingles.

It was one such jingle that prompted me to rethink the Christian doctrine of sin.

Sin is a complex and depressing topic. In the Evangelicalism I was raised in, sin is of the utmost importance. ALL people sin, and therefore "fall short of the glory of God." We have "sinful natures" that we cannot overcome no matter how hard we try. The idea is that God created us to have free will, but once Eve ate the forbidden fruit, our natures became sinful. Not only do we sin constantly, but sin is defined in ever-increasing ways as the Bible progresses. Jesus tells us that even thinking about adultery or murder is sin. Christian doctrine draws on the gospels and epistles to say that all sins are equal before God. Telling a lie is as bad as committing mass murder. We are "slaves to sin" and the only solution is the Atonement of Christ.

This bothers me. I disagree that all sins are equal. And it seems to me that "sin" is not a bug, but a feature of humanity. Babies care only for themselves. But hopefully, as they grow into children and then adults they learn to put the needs of others as at least equal to their own. But how can you learn this without ever messing it up?

Which is why I prefer the doctrine of Daniel Tiger to the Bible here. Thus spake the Tiger:

It's OK to make mistakes
Try to fix them
And learn from them, too

The tiger offers no shame. The tiger doesn't threaten us with eternal damnation. The tiger requires no bloody sacrifice to blot out the mistake. The tiger acknowledges the mistake and tries to go forth and do better. Instead of the Bible's all-or-nothing, perfectionist thinking, the Tiger offers us nuance and space to mess up.

This is the big problem with the Bible, or at least how we most of us were taught to interpret it. Two thousand years ago it was truly progressive (parts of it still are). But many parts of that book no longer are. We don't stone adulteresses, that's good. But many churches still ostracize divorced people even though our entire model for marriage AND our concept of women's rights have changed radically in the last 2,000 years. So instead of pulling us forward, the Bible holds us back. We try to apply first-century rules to modern life and continually butt up against science, reason, and empathy. 

I don't know what the solution is, if there's a way to sift through the scripture and retain the useful while disregarding the parts that are bizarre and barbaric. But I do know that Daniel Tiger has never let me down! At this point in my faith deconstruction, I feel a bit like Gretchen on the first episode of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, when she escapes the bunker and then thinks Matt Lauer of The Today Show is her new cult leader, "I go with you now, yes? I'm married to you?" It's strange to walk away from an institution that has been your home for your entire life.

So, what say you, loyal readers? Do we start our own Tiger-based cult? Ideas? Locations?