I was at a Secular Coalition for Massachusetts meeting a few days ago, and the topic of raising children came up. Most of my confederates at the table gave what I consider the orthodox atheist policy statement: Indoctrination is bad. Simply give your children the the cognitive tools and they will eventually come up to the right conclusion. The implied message,of course, is that you shouldn't raise your kids as atheists.
Even though I had finished my second pint of black 'n tan (the lovely combination of Bass and Guinness where the Guinness floats on top of the Bass) as well as giving a fairly decent history of the concoction to one of my new friends who had never seen the drink before, I went into my unorthodox policy statement vis-à-vis parenting and atheism.
When we talk about Christianity in my house we talk about it as the Christian myth, or the myth a vast majority of people believe in. There is no difference in how I talk about Zeus, Jesus or Adventure Time. Just as I don't say I'm agnostic about unicorns or Teletubbies, I'm not going to lie to my kids and say that I'm functionally agnostic about God.(NOTE: People at the event will remember my statement as much more rambly, but funnier. I am exercising editorial control since it would be particularly narcissistic of me to ask to be recorded for posterity whenever I fell like I may say something clever.)
But I'm not here to talk about one of my drinking sessions. No. I am here to talk about how I explained Christmas to Ali, my seven year old daughter.
We were having dinner last night. The hot topic was Christmas and how close we were to the orgy of conspicuous consumption. There are some religious conversations that we have every year at certain times like: You don't have to say Under God in the Pledge; What Easter is all about; etc. As the children get older I weave in more information in an age appropriate way. This year I decided that the wacky Christian myth of Christmas was going to explained to Ali.
I drew a crappy picture that illustrated the absurdity of the belief. Here is approximately what I drew. I should also mention that the red text is only for you; the original did not have it.
"Let me explain what most Christians believe. Here is God up on a cloud in Heaven," I said. "He gets this woman named Mary pregnant."
My daughter's eyes open up wide.
"She gives birth to Jesus."
"Christ," my son chirped in.
"Right, but lets not get into that right now." There was no way I was going to get into the ancient Christian debate concerning the relationship between Jesus' humanity and divinity.
"She gives birth to Jesus, who also is God," I continued.
"That makes no sense!" she exclaimed.
"Yeah, I'm aware."
"Are they married?" The they being God and Mary.
"No. Mary has a husband named Joseph." I pointed out the figure next to Mary.
"How do you know all this?" Ali asked.
"Baby, everyone knows this."
She sat there, stunned.
At this point I recited the policy of not telling people that God is an imaginary friend many people have because they will get upset at you.
After that we went about the normal business of bringing my son to his martial arts class, and then Ali practiced the piano.
This was just another night...