Sundays With The Christianists: Here's A Delightful Children's Book About Hell
Hey, there, all you sinners, apostates, reprobates, fornicators, sodomites, adulterers, whoremongers, and occasional jaywalkers! Time for another visit to Fundamentalist Land, with an enchanting little book for kids called The Cage: A Young Children’s Guide to the Biblical Teaching on Hell, by one C. Matthew McMahon, Ph.D., Th.D. It's published by an outfit called "Puritan Publications" out of Tennessee, and is aimed at helping your lovely little child understand that they are headed straight to the Eternal Fires of Hell, and will burn forever unless they are saved by the blood of Christ. We were initially intrigued to see a kid's book titled The Cage, but extremely disappointed when it turned out to have nothing to do with the pilot episode of Star Trek. It might be the worst kids' book we've ever seen, though it's got some stiff competition.
In addition to writing terrifying children's books, Dr. C. Matthew McMahon also runs the website "A Puritan's Mind," which is chock-full of Calvinist theology (the very SMUGGEST of all the theologies), but sadly lacking in comics about stuffed tigers. Dr. McMahon even made a wonderful preview video flogging the book, in case you were wondering why kids aged 5 to 9 need to learn about "the doctrine of endless punishment in Hell, and salvation in Jesus Christ":
He seems nice! We especially liked the shot at 1:30 of a loving grandpa reading to two obviously captivated little girls from a completely different book; apparently photos of children actually experiencing The Cage didn't test well with the focus group, what with all the tears and screaming. We also like his cheerful explanation that kindergartners need this book, because "1/6th of all that Jesus ever taught was on judgment and hell." Not sure we remember Jesus saying that much about hell, but maybe if you take all the direct references and add in all the mentions of its opposite, "salvation," you'd reach quota.
But enough of these teasers! Let's get right into the book, which starts off with a dedication to "every parent who teaches their children about the locked cage of sin, and the key of Christ's cross," and tosses in a trio of Bible verses for good measure:
“But I will warn you to whom to fear: Fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:5)
"For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." (Rom. 5:19)
“Do not withhold correction from a child, For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, And deliver his soul from hell,” (Proverbs 23:14).
Almost all of our favorite children's books start with some rousing lines about murder and the necessity of child-beating.
Now it's time for the fun lesson to begin, in a strained anapestic tetrameter that would gag a star-bellied Sneetch. We'll assume that your godly homeschooled children have had no exposure to that heathen Dr. Seuss, but maybe it'll fool some of the slower secular kids into listening:
From time to time we also get these exciting full-page interjections, too:
Which our sadly corrupted mind keeps wanting to follow with "We must, we must, we must increase our bust!"
The boy in the cage looks on sadly as other cages' chains break and their occupants plunge into the fiery depths. Sadly, this is not shown in any detail more graphic than the picture up top, so we recommend parents supplement the book with some nice medieval depictions of what happens to sinners:
The boy notices that his Cage of Big Sin (which would be a great name for a band) has a lock on it, but he has no key, even though he looks everywhere:
I searched in my pockets,
My pants and my shirt,
I've not found a key,
Only lint and some dirt.
His mom and dad and pastor don't have the key either, which seems rather churlish of them. They're shown standing ... somewhere, we guess, on the edge of the abyss. They helpfully point upward:
Happily, the boy's Pastor and mother and father and friends all know where the key is: In the depths of Mount Doom, where he must snatch it from Gollum! Hahaha, that is our little joke. No, the excellent news is that God killed his son for us, who is also God, and now we can get out of our cages! The book shows a joyful token black child jumping gleefully out of his cage, onto a walkway that has magically appeared, because C. Matthew McMahon, Ph.D., Th.D. has anticipated the inevitable questions about why you wouldn't just land in the infinite lake of fire if you jump out of your cage. He'll leave the engineering problems of extending and retracting those walkways for another day.
They say Jesus came
And died on a tree
To take all the sin
that dwells inside me...
He'll wash me and cleanse me
From sin and of shame
For sinning against Him
And God's Holy Name.
Here, the boy pulls up his shirt and points at his left nipple for some reason. Must be a Protestant thing; we never did that at Our Lady Of the Bleeding Guilty Crown Of Thorns On Your Heart Forever.
So if I believe this
He'll come with that key
To open this cage
And free I will be!
And so the boy prays, the key appears, and the boy joins his family and Pastor on solid ground. "Does God have a key for YOU?" To facilitate discussion, the book has a couple more pages of Hell-related Bible verses at the end, and a brief lesson on Hell in non-verse form, which includes these important reminders:
Hell is not: a place where the devil lives. Hell is not a place where you can have fun. Hell is not a place where friends gather to hang around.
Hell is the furnace of fire where people go who die in their sins without being saved by Jesus. They are tormented in their minds, bodies, and souls, for sinning against God. Torment can also mean: pain, misery, persecution, suffering; it is the opposite of being cheerful, happy, and joyful. The people in hell are there forever, without any possibility of relief by the mercy or pity of God.
Your children will no doubt appreciate that little detour into Thesaurus.com, too! We also learn who goes to hell: "All people born with Adam’s sin in them go to hell if they don’t trust in Jesus." Just to be sure kids get the point, the lesson makes sure to list almost all the possibilities:
It does not matter how old you are: old people go to hell, middle age people go to hell, teenagers go to hell, and even little children can go to hell. Remember, little children are not too little to go hell.
But what about tiny babies, Mommy? Do tiny babies go to hell? That one's left for parents to puzzle out on their own, which you'd think McMahon might have anticipated. The little nippers also learn that what makes hell so bad is not the devil, but the very same infinitely loving God who offered you that key but you didn't take it, you ungrateful little shit: "God is there pouring out his anger on sinful people who do not really love him (Isaiah 30:33)" And yes, McMahon forgot to capitalize that pronoun; fortunately, he needn't worry because God has already forgiven him.
Finally, there's this helpful Note to Parents, which explains why it's so very important to traumatize their children for their own good:
What's a few sleepless nights compared to the eternal torment which we all richly deserve but for the grace of God?
We're not sure we want to sample McMahon's other wares for tykes, which include "Sophia and the Umbrella – A Children’s Book on Justification," which is billed as an "easy to understand story" that helps kids "see what it means to be justified by God through the blood of Jesus Christ through the eyes of a little girl," which may be one too many embedded clauses to be theologically accurate.
Sill, if you want to start your kids on a path toward recognizing that they are dirt, dirt, dirt, dirty dirt in the Eyes of the Lord, The Cage seems like a pretty good primer. For slightly older readers, you might consider the beautiful, action-packed pop-up book adaptation of Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God," coming soon from Wonkette Books.
Or maybe your kids would just be better off watching The Kids In the Hall:
[Tip O' the Wonket Leather Cat Lady Headgear to The Friendly Atheist]
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.