A reader once complained to Mark Twain about the fact that Huck Finn uses the word sweat rather than perspiration in Twain's novel, stating that this was a bad example for children. The author replied that his book had been intended for adult readers and that he was distressed to learn children were being allowed access to it. He went on to say, "The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeaseable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of heaven."
Twain may have been having fun at the expense of his critic, but he was right on target. Anyone who complains too strenuously about youth's exposure to sex and violence in books, movies, electronic games or whatever, while at the same time urging them to read the Bible, is a bit of a hypocrite. As any teenager who has faithfully read the Bible knows very well, that book has an ample supply of sex and violence. And teens may know better than most adults where to find it.
Lately I have been working my way through I & II Kings, two Old Testament books I don't think I have ever read before in their entirety. Those kings of Israel and Judah were a rough lot. Somebody gets killed on practically every page, and it's usually bloodier than any murder mystery. Here are a few choice incidents found just in II Kings:
- The king of Moab sacrifices his firstborn son on the city wall. (3:27)
- During a severe famine, two women with infant sons make a pact. They agree to eat one woman's son one day and the other woman's son the next. They do eat one boy, but the second mother then hides her son, causing the other mother to complain to the king. (6:26-30)
- A man kills the king by soaking a thick cloth in water and holding it over his face. (8:15)
- Jezebel is killed when eunuchs throw her off a high wall and horses trample her. (9:33)
- All 70 princes are killed and their severed heads placed in baskets. (10:7)
- All the ministers of Baal are rounded up and slaughtered. (10:18-27)
- After her son's death, Athaliah attempts to destroy the entire royal family and nearly succeeds. (11:1-4)
- Menahem sacks Tiphsah and rips open all the pregnant women. (15:16)
The Bible shows mankind at its worst, as well as at its best. Is it fit reading for children? Well, yes, I think so, but then I wouldn't object to any child reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn either.