“Daddy, I’m a Christian”. These are not the words you expect to hear from your 5 year old son, especially in a staunchly atheist household. However, they were spoken this weekend in the car, on the way to a family Christmas gathering, so were not completely out of context.
[This is NOT the Easter Bunny
– image thanks to HDWallFree]
However, I soon realised that we’d just been unsuspectingly ambushed by the confluence of three things:
1. the season of “excited Children attuned to the benefits of bribery” – aka, “Who’s naughty or nice”
2. the social calendar, encouraging otherwise secular education establishments to spend an extended time on Christian “stories”
3. my son’s current obsession with the film “Rise of the Guardians”
Each on their own would be easy to deal with, but together … we’re talking “Perfect Storm” territory.
First: Excited children at Christmas are to be expected. As a family we spend a lot of time talking about how lucky we are and how we also should think of others. Yet, … in conversation with my son the other day, an exchange went like this:
HIM: “What’s better, Christmas or Easter?”
ME: “You tell me son, which do YOU think is better?”
HIM: “Christmas – because we get lots of presents”
It was straight from “Rise of the Guardians” of course, a made-up conflict between Santa and the most aggressive Easter Bunny you’ve ever seen – but is there ANY surprise what the kids prefer?
Second, the topic that actually led up to the declaration above, which was his announcement that,
HIM: “The world was actually built in 7 days”.
ME: “Erm, yes, that’s the story some people tell darling. Where did you learn this?”
HIM: “In class. That’s what [teacher] said.”
ME: “Yes, well, that’s a story to help us understand how the world we live in has come about. It actually took a long time.”
HIM: “No, it was 7 days. On Monday, God … (etc.)”
Now, I’m assuming he missed the subtlely of “this is a Christian allegory” rather than a South London school having decided to teach Creationism, but this was still awkward. I understand that schools have a duty to educate children about different religions, but I’m not sure they necessarily do enough to emphasise that ALL of them, including Christianity, are “just what some people believe”. Especially to 5 year olds.
His school does a good job to be inclusive and even-handed, but Christianity does tend to feature quite prominently. We still have the nativity play, the harvest festival, the songs about Noah (“Who built the ark? No-one, no-one”), and so on.
I’m not quite sure schools always appreciate how difficult it is for atheist households to educate their kids about the social importance of Christianity whilst emphasising it as ‘stories’. Telling your kids that “God isn’t real” is akin to being the first parents to tell your kids “Santa isn’t real” … you’re really NOT going to make many friends that way.
Finally, comes the clincher. Along comes Rise of the Guardians (warning minor spoiler alert).
The premise of the movie is that kids HAVE to believe in Santa, and the Easter Bunny, … plus Jack Frost, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and to some extent, the Boogie Man, … otherwise they fade away and die.
So, having just watched the film for the 20th time, it was NOT a good moment to comment on whether an important character in my son’s school education could POSSIBLY be real or not.
My son’s impeccable logic goes something like this:
“Since I want presents, I love Christmas.
The character who brings the presents is Santa. Santa is, therefore, real.
If I want to ensure Santa exists, I must believe in him.
Since Santa only comes at Christmas, and Christmas is the holiday about Jesus, I must believe in him too, and so he is therefore real, and the stories they tell about him are true.
Therefore, to ensure I get presents, I should be a Christian.”
Someone, somewhere, deserves a lump of coal in their stocking this Christmas for setting me up like that.