We'd be lying if we said we'd ever devoted substantive thought to the religious beliefs of the Berenstain Bears, a fact we mention only because everyone else on the Internet apparently has. The prevailing opinion is that they are Jewish, which seems reasonable, inasmuch as assigning a family of fictional talking bears from children's literature to one of the Abrahamic religions can ever be reasonable. There's a Facebook group devoted to the subject, as well as a blog. "They were just like every other bear family on the block, only they happened to be Jewish," writes BlackBook's Adam Wilson.
Not anymore, explains The New Yorker's Ian Crouch. In their newest adventure, The Berenstain Bears and the Golden Rule (currently the top-selling book in the iPad App Store), the Berenstains have been recast as evangelical Christians. Crouch takes stock of the change:
The golden rule is just the kind of sensible, even-handed moral that I remember from my old favorites, but in the new app, the universal theme is tied directly to a Biblical source: Matthew 7:12. “Golden Rule” is part of the "Living Lights" series of Berenstain books published by Zonderkidz, a division of Zondervan, a Christian publisher based in Michigan. (The app is produced in association with Oceanhouse Media.) Other titles in the series include “The Berenstain Bears Say Their Prayers,” “The Berenstain Bears Go to Sunday School,” and “The Berenstain Bears: God Loves You.”
The singular quality of the series always seemed to be the everyday fallibility of the characters; they could be mean-spirited, selfish, territorial, and gluttonous (they’re bears after all), but by the end of each book, they would redeem themselves—restored to their better selves by the steadying influence of trusty humanist values and good cheer. God never seemed to have anything to do with it. Now, I'm faced with the unthinkable: would these once agnostic Reagan-era bear creatures now vote Tea Party in the next election?