No Thanks To Evil Toys



I recently made a post on Facebook complaining about the evil-looking toys that are included in some of the so-called “kids meals” at fast food restaurants.  I had seen others in the past, such as creepy teenage vampires and skull faces, but the latest one that raised my eyebrows was a small round blob of a “monster” called Diablo or something like that.  Not only did it have a little forked devil tail and horns, but wings and an ugly face that changes expressions as the position of the toy is moved. This particular little guy comes in the standard red color and a glow-in-the-dark “special edition.”

There’s something about toys like this that give me the creeps, and of course my wife and I do all we can to preemptively request more wholesome toys at the drive-thru speaker.  This one slipped through the radar and was confiscated and discretely discarded later.  Making the best out of a bad situation, this seemed like great material for an article, with the Christmas shopping season upon us.

Devil Toys, Really?

I got a few responses to my Facebook post, mostly supportive of my online whining.  But the response that got my attention was from a lady who disagreed, and in a series of posts she berated me for a variety of reasons. The main thrust of the argument was that I was 1) seeing a devil behind every rock; 2) not realizing that Jesus had redeemed the world, and that creation was good; 3) novel toys with bright colors are great for kids; and 4) things from other cultures (Japan) aren’t automatically bad.

So obviously, the charge was that I was a) over reacting, b) a fundamentalist with little true understanding of my faith, c) a Grinch who wanted to deprive children of brightly colored comical characters, and d) a bigot, not appreciating the finer points of pagan pantheism. (Obviously, I am adding a slight flair of hyperbole and sarcasm to my description of this argument, but sadly, that was the major thrust.)

Clearly, short of some kind of cursed object, plastic toys are not intrinsically evil. They aren’t a substance which if touched will corrupt children and cause them to be demonically possessed. Of course, that was never my point.  Let’s break this down in terms of the several Catholic principles in play here.

Applying Catholic Principles

First, as Pope St. John Paul II reminded us in Familiaris consortio in 1981, parents are the primary educators of their children and have a moral obligation to raise them in the faith. It is not the job of a school, other relatives, and especially the world to educate our children.  And for a short time, parents are in charge of the materials to which their children are exposed and the circumstances in which that happens.  So, in my domestic church, my wife and I have the moral responsibility and the authority to make prudential choices for our children, especially in terms of their faithful catechesis.

Secondly, we are called to be in this world, but certainly not of this world. We are called to have a Catholic Christian world-view, not a secular pagan world-view. This means that from a very early age, we need to teach our children the principles by which to operate in this world, and remain in Christ and of Christ without succumbing to the temptations of this world. The operating principle here is that evil, regardless of how colorfully and entertainingly presented, isn’t something we should consume or enjoy. As Scripture tells us, the Devil often presents himself as an angel of light.  How about as brightly colored children’s toys?  Evil never shows its true self until later.

Thirdly, Jesus died to redeem us and the world. However, as we can surmise from observation, the world remains full of suffering and evil – and we are most certainly vulnerable to temptation and can lose salvation. The heretical viewpoint of “once saved, always saved” seems to sometimes creep into our point of view. We do not have an absolute assurance of salvation; rather, we have a moral assurance of salvation, or the theological virtue of Hope. If we stay on the path by leading a sacramental life, we have a moral assurance of being saved. Until that time, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and things of this world can interfere with that journey. Jesus’ death and resurrection gives us the means of salvation, and we will see a fully redeemed physical world at the resurrection, at the end of time.  Along the way, people and things can work to mess that up.

Fourthly, it follows therefore that choices matter. We have a free will, and our free will can be led by grace to salvation or by sin to disaster. We have a universe of choices that face us daily, as individuals and as parents. Which choice will be the tipping point? Remember, the fall of mankind was initiated with a single choice, to disobey God and eat the apple, just as the salvation of the world was initiated by one single “yes” to God. What kind of choices do we make?

Lastly, closely related to the third and fourth points is the reality that the Devil is the prince of this world.  Prominent catechist Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. expounds on this thoroughly in his treatment of the subject, but suffice it to say that in the Gospel of John Jesus calls the Devil the prince of this world three times. This is a reference to a world of sin, a world which came about through the fall of Adam, which killed Jesus, and which is redeemed only through Jesus. The Devil operates day and night, sometimes working through other people,  to mess us up, and get us off the path.

The Council of Trent’s decree on justification sums it up succinctly:

Nevertheless, let those who think themselves to stand, take heed lest they fall, and, with fear and trembling work out their salvation, in labours, in watchings, in almsdeeds, in prayers and oblations, in fastings and chastity: for, knowing that they are born again unto a hope of glory, but not as yet unto glory, they ought to fear for the combat which yet remains with the flesh, with the world, with the devil, wherein they cannot be victorious, unless they be with God’s grace, obedient to the Apostle, who says; We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh; for if you live according to the flesh, you shall die; but if by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live. (Sixth Session)

Rome Was Not Built in A Day

So, now that we’ve established Church teaching on the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged, just what does a little plastic toy in a kids meal have to do with all of this? It’s one little toy, right? To answer that question, let’s pull back the lens a bit, and ask another question: is a child raised in a day?

No! In the span of years, hundreds if not thousands of interactions and impressions form the character of a young person. Some interactions, such as forms of abuse or trauma, can undo years of parenting in an instant. But typically, small experiences over years add up to form the basic principles and world-view of a person. Parents, as the primary educators of their child, know that some experiences can be chosen, and some are forced upon us by the world.

So should we eliminate any reference to the “bad guys” in the toys to which we expose our children? After all, even the Bible mentions the Devil.  I grew up playing “army men” and some of those little plastic figures were Nazi soldiers. I even played Dungeons and Dragons, which had many evil figures. I read Hardy Boys novels and watched Scooby Doo cartoons which had evil antagonists. In these examples, there is a clear-cut distinction between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” The action of play, or the story, was always sympathetic to the cause of the “good guys” and the defeat of evil. You knew who the good guys were and wanted them to win.  In these more recent examples, the evil figures have become the protagonists. The lines get blurred between what’s good and what’s evil when all the characters are vampires or werewolves. Even modern cartoons are sympathetic to the villains, and in the case of one new TV show, the Devil himself. This is where we must draw the line – where the concept of the toy departs the Christian allegory into a neo-pagan world view.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to observe that the world is not on our side. Turn on network television, look at billboards, turn on the radio, and browse the Internet — within a short time you will encounter the seven deadly sins on parade and shoved in your face, marketed in brightly colored, enticing packaging. It’s the anti-Christ preaching an anti-Bible and an anti-Catechism. So, living in a world like this, which is clearly under the influence of evil, how do we ensure that our children will be placed on the path to holiness, and walk with Christ throughout their lives?

Building a Foundation of Holiness

That question is answered in each and every deliberate choice we make for our children. Like bricks laid in a foundation, the behaviors we model and the choices we make for our family establish principles which facilitate virtue in a person’s life. Good bricks build up solid walls that withstand the storm. Bad bricks laid on sand will end in moral disaster. As Jesus said,

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? (Luke 11:11-12)

So, is a little devil toy an objective moral evil that will cause imminent moral disaster?  No. But neither is turning a blind eye to the garbage that the world wants to feed our children a sign of moral assurance of salvation, or the theological virtue of hope. It’s irresponsible and it can be easily avoided It’s allowing the world to lay another small brick in the wall between our child and God, something that this culture of death loves to do. Devil-faced toys don’t glorify God, or spread the Gospel. Devil figurines are still devil figurines, even if they are a “special edition” glow-in-the-dark version. It’s not funny, and it’s not cute. It’s chilling. And what’s even more chilling is that some Christians fail to realize that they are in the midst of a fight with the flesh, the world, and the Devil for their souls and the souls of their children. Passive Catholicism, watered down with moral equivalency, has created a generation of “nice people” that leave the Church, endangering their own salvation. By “nice people,” I mean inoffensive people that don’t take a moral stand, or who are simply unaware that these things matter. It is an axiom that there is no neutral in the spiritual life: you either are moving forward to holiness or in reverse towards worldliness.

So, am I a fundamentalist nut? An extremist? Not quite. I’m deadly serious about raising a saint, and I’ll take my queue on how to apply these principles from the saints. Here are two. St. Josemaria Escriva said, “Anything that does not lead to God is a hindrance. Root it out and throw it far from you.” This was probably an echo of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created. From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it” (from Principle and Foundation of The Spiritual Exercises).

No Thanks!

And these drive-through toys aren’t the only trash you will see on the shelves this Christmas.  You’ll no doubt see a wide variety of teenage vampires and werewolves, skulls with pretty pink hair bows on kid’s clothing, Ouija boards, and collectible monster game cards that teach children that might makes right and personal power is all that matters. Much of this merchandise comes from books and movies, which are another complex maze to navigate for parents. We’ll leave that to another article. Beware of toys that don’t build up the principles that underlie lasting moral character, don’t uphold the virtues, and aren’t helping us to raise future saints. Poison kills in small doses.

So, no thanks to the devil toy. We choose better things for our daughter that lay a great foundation for heroic virtue and holiness. We jettison the rest. Is it comfortable to go against the grain and ask for something better? No. Will children understand these choices? No. Nobody said carrying our cross in opposition to this world would be easy. Sometimes that’s going to be manifested in weird looks at the drive-through or screaming kids in the back seat. So be it.

Christ warned us that if the world hated him, it would hate us, too.  The world does not hate us for agreeing with it.

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17 thoughts on “No Thanks To Evil Toys”

  1. Pingback: Not your ordinary “spring cleaning”… | mommy brown skin

  2. It would seem that the most offensive aspect of this is not “evil” toys, after all evil does exist and to deal with it one must be aware of it, but that not enough emphasis is placed on the reason for the celebration and the hope it stands for to oppose evil. By the way, evil is ugly. At least they pretty much got that right.

  3. In my opinion, the very worst of toys, the most demonic play items that you can give a child is any type of gun. Kids learn quickly that demons, devils, dragons, etc are fantasy toys … they are not real and it takes little convincing. Toy guns on the other hand are always seen as real and kids grow up to be adults who still maintain the reality of the fetish of guns as an extension of personal power. Fantasy is soon given up, like Santa and the Bunny…guns on the other hand are demonic, especially when seen as toys.”Thou shall not kill”… yet we allow kids kids to have these “toys”, along with “play” missile launchers, grenades, knives, swords, etc. Very sad!!!

    1. Sheesh, you might as well have said a toy car. More people are killed by cars than by guns in the US, after all, and you can say the same thing about a “fetish of cars as an extension of personal power.” Cars have also been used deliberately as deadly weapons. In fact, few things have NOT been used as deadly weapons, including the pillows you might have your kids playing with.

      Of course, actually teaching kids to be responsible and to distinguish real life from fantasy is too much work; no one could reasonably ask you to do that!

    2. Well, double sheesh, Howard! The issue is always intention. The intention of a car is to drive to work, to go to church, to visit nana, to drive on vacation…and yes sometimes there are accidents where people die and there are instances where people use them as a lethal weapon. The intention of a gun or similar object (unless you are a competitive or recreational target shooter), is to harm or kill a person or animal. The intention….is they key, harming or killing a living creature..
      Now my kids, who are no longer kids, although they are always our kids, clearly know the distinction between fantasy and reality and yes I should be asked to do that and have always done so…I never intended them to be “saints” like the author but real good people.
      BTW, as you can infer I am not a card carrying lifetime member of the NRA and yes, we are vegans…but that’s beside the point. No guns for my grandkids for Christmas….to each his own as I stated in my comment “in MY opinion”. Sheesh and a joyful Christmas to you!

    3. So first you dump the “guns are demonic” and “the intention of a gun or similar argument is … to harm or kill a person or animal”, and then you hide behind “to each his own and as I state in my comment ‘in MY opinion’.” Nope, that won’t work. If you have the courage to say that everyone who owns a gun is behaving in a literally demonic way, say that and take the criticism, and if you’re not up to being criticized, then keep your private opinion private.

    4. I am usually criticized for many of my opinions and I don’t care if I am criticized…I share in no conspiracy theory or feeling of persecution…I stated it was my opinion because there is no one who can speak ex cathedra on this issue. I wrote a response to toys for children….yes, guns as toys for children are demonic…shoot me! Regardless, it’s still my opinion, my perception of reality.

    5. To be fair to you, you very likely mean something entirely different by demonic.

      Still, if you really believe you are right, then you should not play the, “but hey, it’s just my opinion” card. You can play that in questions that are matters of preference, like banana pudding vs blackberry cobbler, but particularly when you are going out of your way to insult millions of people for disagreeing with you, that’s just not good enough. If it’s just your opinion, just your perception of reality, but completely indefensible based on actual facts, then it needs to be brought to your attention that you are acting like a jerk who lacks courage in his convictions, so that you will do better in the future.

      I don’t say this as someone who hopes to be your friend. I strongly suspect we are at loggerheads on a range of issues. But dang it, an opinion should be something less personal than an allergy to mangoes. If mangoes upset your stomach, that’s too bad, but ultimately it’s just a random biographical fact about one of the seven billion strangers living on this planet right now. If you have an opinion, though, it should be something you can defend.

    6. Howard, I really do not mean something different. From the time of creation, demonic referred to evil (beginning with the serpent, apple and tree of knowledge of good and evil.) The demonic is the representation of evil and the demonic specifically works by deception…evil is represented in the demonic world as good. So the key is understanding the effect of the demonic is to understand what occurs to children when evil is represented as good. REMEMBER we are speaking of toys and Christmas gifts. Evil represented as good or even neutral leads to desensitization to other humans and animals.
      Keep representing toy guns as something other than evil and kids play at shooting other people and animals … they become desensitized to killing. Video games are filled with violence, killing, wars, guns, etc. Video games are represented as good help for hand-eye coordination etc. but they result in desensitizing children as they grow into not feeling about wars, shooting, hatred and killing. I could go on with more examples but simply
      Demonic forces of evil represent evil as good which desensitizes children as they grow into acceptance of evil….the demon is dumb and uses same strategies from the day of creation…problem is humans are dumber. Again, blessings to you and yours!

    7. Interesting notion of intention. However, objects don’t have an intention, people do. Guns are made to kill – but not all killing is unjustified. So really the intention of the owner is important. Removing a potentially deadly object doesn’t change the hearts (or intentions) or men, it just defers the evil somewhere else.

      Great comments. Much appreciated.

    8. Precisely, just like knives are made to cut. The knives that Jack the Ripper used (or is believed to have used) to commit gruesome murders are the same type of knives that surgeons used to save lives. Cutting a person is usually wrong — but there are important exceptions. Shooting a person is likewise usually wrong — but there are important exceptions.

    9. Of course you are correct. Inanimate things can not have intention…wrong choice of words by me. Inanimate things have purpose…

    10. Thanks for your comments Adam. I know many feel the way you do. I also played with toy guns and grenades as a child – but again the play was modeled at defeating evil, rather than rampant violence. I didn’t grow up to be a killer.

      I do have a lot of concerns about video games with gratuitous sex and violence (especially in combination), again where the lines between good and evil are blurred. A just war action is never predicated on the desire to shoot things up, rather to defeat the evil – with a secondary effect of people being killed.

    11. If the commandment were, “Thou shalt not kill,” Adam, I’d entirely agree with your analysis. But it’s “Thou shalt not murder“.

      In a perfect world, no killing would ever be necessary, and so all killing would be murder (and thus, wouldn’t happen, because it’s a perfect world). But we don’t live in a perfect world, and sometimes there is a need for “good guys” to use violence to protect innocents against “bad guys.”

      There’s a place for that lesson in children’s upbringing.

      If my kids (while still at the age when they are incapable of sharply distinguishing between Nerf guns and real guns) wanted to play at shooting one another just to see who could win, that might be a problem. But if one of them is playing as a villain, or if they’re both playing heroes shooting at the villains in their minds’ eye, then I see nothing wrong with that.

      I grew up that way, and I’ve never had any violent urges (I’ve actually never even held a real gun – I’m not opposed, I just never had any occasion or strong desire to do so). I just learned that when the bad guys attack, the good guys have to take a stand and fight back.

      If I end up having kids who grow up to be moral, dedicated teachers, or social workers, or priests, I’ll be proud of them. And if I have kids who grow up to be moral, brave soldiers or SWAT officers, I’ll be proud of them.

      If my kids pick fights, I’ll punish them (very sternly) – but if they use violence in valid defense of themselves or others, even if they get suspended from school, that suspension will be a day (or week, or whatever) of ice cream and play time and staying up late (especially if it’s to defend someone weaker than themselves).

    12. Adam…while I can see your point regarding the violence that ‘can’ be perpetrated with firearms, as a retired Veteran I completely disagree with your contention that toy guns are intrinsically evil. As a former soldier and currently a parent, I ACTIVELY teach my daughter (now twelve) the importance of, respect, responsibility and danger that all firearms MUST be given. She is quite competent with .22 pistol, 9mm pistol and long guns.

      Most importantly she understands the consequences of a real firearm vs a toy gun. She and I enjoy NERF gun wars on the back property and we enjoy our time together at the firing range as well, but she also knows NEVER to touch a real or ‘real looking’ firearm, unless I have cleared it, safed it and hand it to her myself.

      My contention is that “toy gun play” for kids is healthy, within the constraints of good vs. evil or hero vs. antagonist; the old adage “Evil flourishes when good men do nothing.” comes to mind. Kids learn by role play and observation, so the parenting has a direct impact on the lessons the child learns esp. during play.

      I will agree that when the role play approaches the ‘anti-hero’ or ‘the damaged hero/heroine’ whose end justifies the means is not acceptable and serves only to blur the lines between good vs. evil / justice vs. consequence.
      Ultimately, if I recall correctly, St. Thomas Aquinas even addressed the argument of self-defense (Pro) in his Summa Theologiae, so, for me, “toy gun play” (or swords/cap guns/lightsabers/ LEGOs, ad nauseam.) re-enforces the morality of possibly having to defending yourself or the innocent, possibly to the point of self-sacrifice for another, within the Hero vs. Antagonist archetypes.

  4. This article makes me think about some of the crazy Christmas tree ornaments I’ve come across.

    Also, the article brings to mind St. Paul’s statement, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8).

    The Catholic faith is so rich. One could spend a lifetime contemplating just the art and architecture that has arisen as a result of Catholicism.

  5. “The main thrust of the argument was that I was 1) seeing a devil behind every rock”. Fr. Bill Casey from the Fathers of Mercy said, “That would be fine if only they would stay behind the trees/rocks”. You are right, REJECT ALL of this worldly CRAP!

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