We have some rather disturbing news to report: The Berenstain Bears have converted to religious, bible-quoting Christians.
The latest installments of the book series for children include The Berenstain Bears: Do Not Fear, God is Near and The Berenstain Bears Go to Sunday School. The books are being marketed exclusively to the Christian community at Sunday schools, churches, and Christian book stores.
The story was first broke by New York Times reporter Saul Asterlitz after he received the books as gifts for his son.
So why is this all so awful?
First, a disclaimer: I’m a secular Jew. And while I knew a few other Jewish children growing up, I lived in a largely Christian neighborhood in a Christian nation. My childhood was bombarded with Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving and the unavoidable “25 Days of Christmas” special on the former ABC Family. There were few Jewish things I could share with my friends. Except, of course, the Berenstain Bears. While not obviously religious, I always assumed they were secular Jews just like me – not a crazy assumptions since one of the creators in the husband-wife team that started the books, Stan Berenstain, was a Jew himself.
The Berenstain bears were one of the very few Jewish things that had pleased a mainstream crowd. My friends certainly didn’t understand Rosh Hashanah, let alone know how to pronounce it, and as much as I enjoyed the movie The Hebrew Hammer, it didn’t exactly draw a sizable crowd at the box office. And while Steven Spielberg had given us the brilliant An American Tail, somehow my friends seemed to have missed the movie only to opt for the much more popular A Charlie Brown Christmas.
But everyone had read the Berenstain Bears as a kid. And not only that, but they were seriously beloved. So much so that there was recently outrage over the Berenst(E)ain Bears conspiracy theory (in case you missed it: an entire generation remembered the book series to be spelled “Berenstein Bears” only to discover that the last name was spelled with an “a” when they grew up. Many believe the last name was changed only recently). Do you blame me for being so upset when perhaps the most famous Jewish family in America converts to Christianity?
So what had changed? The author had. The books have since been handed down to Stan’s son Mike, who was not religious himself, but after receiving numerous letters from Christian children about the books decided to start writing books for the readership sect.
The books have been purposely published separately, perhaps to avoid the public outrage, but people have obviously noticed. Even in the non-religious books like The Berenstain Bears Show Some Respect there are bears quoting scripture.
The Berenstain Bears franchise began in the 1960s with the first book, The Big Honey Hunt, published in 1962. After the success of the first book, the authors Stan and Jan were encouraged by none other than Theodore Geisel – aka Dr. Suess – himself to continue the series.
Yes, there are still plenty of Berenstain Bears books that remain untainted, but somehow it still feels like something from my childhood has been ripped away from me. I’ll miss you, Mama and Papa Bear.