German Children's Book Draws Fire for Alleged Anti-religion Bent

At first glance, the children's book published in Germany recently looks completely innocent. It's called, "Wo bitte geht's zu Gott?, fragte das kleine Ferkel" ("How Do I Get to God? Asked the Piglet"), and the cover features an illustration of a hedgehog and piglet. Only the subtitle - "Suitable for those who are not willing to deceive themselves" hints at the anti-religious approach of the book, which has led the German government and media to criticize it over its allegedly anti-Semitic content.

Germany's Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth wants to ban "How Do I Get to God?," written by Michael Schmidt-Salomon and illustrated by Helge Nyncke, arguing that it depicts Christianity, Islam and especially Judaism in a degrading way. The Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons will meet next month to decide whether to blacklist the book, a move that would make it illegal to sell or advertise the book to children.

"The three major religions are besmirched in the book, and the unique attributes of each religion are presented in it in a ridiculous way," the ministry wrote in a December memo. "The Jewish religion in particular is portrayed in the book as inhumane, barbaric and merciless," in addition to wanting "to destroy the other religions."

The publisher Alibri says the book allows parents to introduce their children to a critical approach to religion, and has opened a Web site with a petition against the plan to blacklist the book. It argues that efforts to ban the book infringe on freedom of speech.

The book "answers the question, 'Does a secular child lose anything in his life?' from a humanistic perspective," said Gunnar Schedel of Alibri. He said the book is aimed at non-religious parents who want to present their children with a critical approach to religion.

The book, which came out in October, describes what happens to the hedgehog and piglet, who one day discover a poster at the entrance to their house stating, "If you don't know God, you're missing something." The two animals, who until then had not felt that anything was missing in their lives, begin searching for God. Along the way, they meet a rabbi, a priest and a mufti, who are depicted as violent and frightening figures.

The rabbi, who looks similar to the way Jews were portrayed in Nazi propaganda, threatens the two animals and tells them that God destroyed the world during the flood. The mufti turns out to be a hate-filled preacher, and the fat priest might seem to some like a potential child abuser.

"I think that God doesn't exist at all," the hedgehog concludes at the end of the book. "And if he does, then he certainly doesn't live in a synagogue, a church or a mosque."

Schmidt-Salomon said on a Web site dedicated to the book that it was a necessary addition to a book market saturated with religious children's stories.

"Children also have a right to enlightenment," he wrote. "They should not be left defenseless to the scientifically untenable and ethically problematic stories of religion."

The author defended his portrayal of the rabbi, saying it "has no connection to anti-Semitism" and that he has previously been harassed for his Jewish-sounding name.

"Whoever can't distinguish between the ultra-extremist Jews and the rest of the Jews - the secular and the liberal - that's his problem," the author wrote. "No one laughs at the ultra-Orthodox better than the secular Jews themselves."