At its best, Christianity is a belief system worth dying for; a story which gives meaning to the universe and purpose to our daily lives. At worst, it's a commercial opportunity. I'll leave it to you to decide where on that spectrum the following items lie...
It may come as something of a surprise that Christian Action Figures even exist, but they do, and on a significant scale. Over the last few decades, a variety of manufacturers have attempted to find the next GI Joe phenomenon in the pages of the Old and New Testaments. That's not their only motivation of course; for many of them, this is a legitimate way to get children interested in and excited about the Bible. And for others, well, it's all a bit of a joke...
1. The 'almighty heroes'
Designed by the man who invented GI Joe, no less, this 2007 toy line was at top of every Christmas wish list in Ned Flanders' household. Old Testament characters like Samson and Noah are reimagined as muscle-bound plastic warriors suitable for ages 3 and up, while female characters like Esther and Deborah (tent peg sold seperately) were produced as larger dolls. It certainly didn't win any awards for gender equality.
2. Daniel - with Lion and Lioness
This three-part set from still popular US toy series 'Biblequest' is a joy to behold... perhaps until you think it through. In the hands of a four-year-old, is Daniel really going to avoid a mauling every time?
3. Deluxe Miracle Jesus
There's so much to admire about this set, from the flippable water/wine storage jugs to our Saviour's until now unmentioned glow-in-the-dark hands. Supplied with a customary five loaves and two fish, it's completely unclear whether this is a joke, a playset that genuinely tries to give children a friend in Jesus, or something in between.
4. Bible Greats: Esther
Back to the 80s now, and this fully poseable version of the great Old Testament heroine. Supplied with an 'authentic' costume (presumably this is historically verifiable), Esther is topped with a gold crown which coincidentally looks like a sawn-off waste paper bin.
5. Jesus - action figure
The dramatic packaging can't compensate for another far too white Jesus, but the special feature of this toy is at least intriguing. Not only does Jesus have poseable arms - he's also equipped with a 'gliding action', another characteristic that, while not directly mentioned in the Gospels, does give Jesus a nice super-human dimension.
6. Noah... and some animals
This second entry from the Biblequest range doesn't look hugely different to the Daniel figure, but what makes it interesting is the choice of accompanying creatures. After a strong start with goats and rabbits, the whole "animals went in two-by-two" thing sort of falls apart when the manufacturers realised they couldn't fit two tigers into the pack.
7. Jesus and the Tomb playset
I have seen this with my own eyes, on the shelves of a Californian Christian bookshop. Had I not, I'm not sure I'd be able to believe that such a thing exists. Again, one struggles to imagine a huge amount of fun to be had with putting Jesus in and out of a tomb (does putting him back in again count as an act of pre-school heresy?).
8. Moses... and one tablet
Half the commandments appear to have been de-prioritised in this beautifully sculpted reimagining of Moses. I quite like the fact that he's holding it like an iPad at a tech demonstration though.
9. And then of course, there's this...
Up until now, I think most of these toys have been good natured. This one however, which captures 'God' as butt-kicking superhero in the Punisher mould, complete with AK-47 assault rifle, is probably not meant in quite the same spirit. It is produced by the 'Jesus Christ Superstore' though, so we'll let it off on the basis of a cracking pun.