Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Open Thread: Make believe and believing

I was going to get a post up, but it's been an unusual morning so no.  Though don't let this stop anyone else from making a substantive post today, if they have one and they want to put it up.

It was traditional at the Slacktiverse at Typepad to have open threads with prompts.  So not just, "Talk amongst yourselves," but, "Talk amongst yourselves, I'll give you a topic.  Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island.  Discuss."

And, obviously, the point of the prompt was to jumpstart conversation, not limit it, so if you've got something you want to say unprompted, go for it.

So here's the topic/prompt thing:

My sister is considering becoming a Jew because she can believe it.  (The part of this that stuck in my mind is that someone put a Passover mark on our parents' door once and theirs was the one apartment not broken into as a result, so mark on door means no plague here is embedded in her beliefs.  The parts I forgot were probably more important.)

The key part of this is "can believe".  She believes that the world is full of magical things (I'm not sure if she means it literally) but we destroy the ability to believe with the lies that we tell.  Specific examples "There is a Santa; there is no Santa.  There is an Easter Bunny; there is no Easter Bunny.  There is a Tooth Fairy; there is no Tooth Fairy."

Ok, so I was wrong before, that was the set up, here is the prompt:
What effect, if any do you think teaching children to believe in things (Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy/whatever) which are not real has on their later ability to believe in things (specifically religion, but more generally anything you feel like bringing up)?
Hopefully that can get a conversation going, and the commentariat will get it the rest of the way.


  1. I was taught about Santa, but apparently I never really believed in him. Certainly I transitioned easily from Santa to No-Santa mindset. I don't know if this is because other students told me the truth or if it is because my parents weren't very good at the charade (I caught them hiding presents several times).

    TW: RAPE

    I *did* intensely believe in God and the Bible when I was a kid. I read the Bible back to front dozens of times, and was a hardcore Bible "literalist" of the Young Earth, Creationism, Seven Days, Noah's Flood, etc variety. I also believed that divorce was adultery and date-rape meant you had to marry the guy who raped you because, hey, in the Bible. This caused me a lot of problems later, for reasons that should probably be evident.

    / END TW

    I'm a Wiccan now, and though I feel a strong connection to my beliefs, it's a very different feeling from when I was a Christian. It's a little more distant, a little less personal, and 100% better for my individual personality. But while I accept the things I feel and experience as I feel and experience them, I don't dabble in a lot of belief anymore.

    If there's a word for "interacts with the supernatural, but doesn't really believe it's necessarily anything more than her imagination and/or indigestion" that would probably fit me. I'm not a Wiccan Atheist, but maybe Wiccan Agnostic would fit. But even that feels a touch off because it's not that I don't believe things can be proven either way so much as I don't really care if my experiences are "real" or not. They're meaningful to me, and that's all that really matters to me these days.

  2. I think that children learn very early on that grown-ups lie, and that bigger children hate them. Both of which are probably good things to learn.

    Ana, I think we may be in some similar places: I regard myself as an atheist magician, going on the basis of my own experiences. (Whenever I do something supernatural, I stop to think "if I am deluding myself about all this stuff, is this at least not going to make things worse?".)

  3. Mom has a story she tells. One year, she was maybe ten? So my aunt C would have been eight, and their brothers nine, eleven, and twelve or thereabouts. And Grandma D asked Mom to find C and ask if she still believed in Santa, because Grandma D wanted to put the presents under the tree openly. Mom went off and avoided C and Grandma D for a bit and came back and told Grandma D that C still believed in Santa. Until that very day, you see, Mom had believed in Santa.

    Mom swore she wouldn't ever do that to any of her own kids; this will be the first Christmas where Mom knows all her kids know, since it was last Christmas Day that my thirteen-year-old sister and twenty-one-year-old brother told her they know. (Sister almost certainly still believed the Christmas before that. Dunno about brother.)

    I'm not sure what will happen if I ever have kids. What seems most in line with my beliefs is me telling Kid that a lot of people, definitely including the parents of many classmates and possibly including any other parental figures Kid may have, play a game with their kids where it's Santa and not parents who put presents under the tree and quarters under the pillow and hide Easter eggs. And I will play those games if Kid likes (which may well be the only celebration of Christmas and Easter Kid sees in my house), but a lot of kids don't get the forewarning that it is just a game, and it would be very rude for Kid to tell anyone under the age of adult that it's just a game, because that would spoil the other kids' and parents' enjoyment of the game.

    1. I really like your idea for dealing with Santa with kids.

  4. I have so many thoughts about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I was even considering writing a post about it. I really love the kind of magical/religious/cultural rituals where you start off on one side of the curtain, with the enchantment and wonder and fun, and move on to having the secret knowledge, and later to wearing the mask and embodying the spirit. But I guess there are ways to do it wrong where it feels like a betrayal, and probably it depends on the people?

    I don't remember when I found out what the deal was with Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. I think I just slowly pieced it together and my family gave enough information that I could collect clues. We are doing a similar thing with our kids. And when it comes to gods and myths I try to do something like that, where they know the stories and work out for themselves how the stories and mysteries fit into the world of science and people with differing beliefs.

    SRSLY the identity ritual thingy is awesome, and probably part of the reason I am big into superheroes and Avatars and earning the right to take someone's place and doing stuff in the name of heroes or saints or whatever.

    1. I was even considering writing a post about it.

      Write the post! Write the post!

      Um. Ahem. Ok. Would you please step beyond considering writing the post and move closer to having the post written?

  5. Hmm. Being Jewish, I never had anything like Santa or the Easter Bunny. My fiancee did, though, and she regards Santa as practice for a particular understanding of God--an all-powerful and capricious judge who rewards or punishes you without ever actually telling you what you did right or wrong, you just have to guess based on how things are going. (With bonus implication that anybody who gets bad gifts/has a rough life must be a bad person!)

    Personally, I think Santa's a lie-to-children--something untrue you tell a child in the hopes that it points them in the direction of something true. Like saying that mass is a constant or that love can be unconditional. Exactly how effective that is depends on what truth you're trying to point to and on the child.

  6. SO okay, lies-to-children. To be thought about later.

    Because I'm supposed to be working, but I'm being distracted by 3/4 of a light-verse earworm, because of Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island.

    There are no rocks
    in Rockaway.
    There are no sheep
    in Sheepshead Bay.
    Something something
    ends in -ound.
    And silent is
    Long Island Sound.

    Don't know who wrote it, or where, or what the missing lines are. Bleah.

  7. The line is "There's nothing new in Newfoundland," and it's by Howard Moss. It was published in the New Yorker on Jan 20, 1968.

    *cracks knuckles*

    My Google-fu remains strong; that was a pretty difficult one. I had to do an Exact Phrase search for "silent is long island sound," and got the New Yorker, but it was behind a paywall. Fortunately the Google result showed the attribution, so I was able to add "Howard Moss" to my search terms and got a hit on a badly built page that had the full piece:

    1. You're brilliant.

      But Howard Moss isn't-- since when does "land" rhyme with "sound"? No wonder I couldn't remember it!

      Thank you, that's a niggle off my mind.

    2. Newfoundland isn't exactly pronounced as "New Found Land". Mind you, pretty sure it still doesn't rhyme with "sound". At least, not in my accent.

    3. The "found" in Newfoundland is basically pronounced as "fund", at least in Ontario.

    4. The "found" in Newfoundland is basically pronounced as "fund", at least in Ontario.

      Maine as well.

  8. My parents never directly told me Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny were real, but they acted as if those things were real, and I picked up on that and believed in those things.

    My parents told me Santa etc. weren't real when I was seven, a couple of months before Christmas. I probably wasn't really quite ready. However, we had just been sent an issue of Sesame Street Parents' Magazine with an article on telling your kids about Santa, and I was in the habit of illicitly "borrowing" and reading my parents' parenting books, so my parents were worried I would disobey their instructions to not read the magazine. I remember being very disappointed, and feeling a little "off" that Christmas, but it didn't have a huge effect on other areas of my life. They asked me not to tell my little sister, and I obeyed that instruction.

    I think my belief would probably have died a natural death in the next couple of years if that hadn't happened, because I was starting to notice things like Santa and my parents having the same handwriting, and other kids at school were starting to say there was no Santa.

    I'm not a huge fan of the idea of lying to kids that Santa is real, and I don't think that acting as if Santa is real without actually saying so is really that much better, because in my experience there wasn't much of a difference in effect between those two things. I've been trying to work out a way to have kids enjoy the Santa thing without deceiving them, and I think Ellie Murasaki's idea sounds like a really good solution.

  9. Off-topic: I just shared an image from Americans Against the Tea Party on Facebook, and my self-declared Tea Party-er sister-in-law... agreed with it. I am not sure whether to be more disturbed by how incredibly bizarre it is that she's agreeing with me about something, or that elements of the Tea Party have now gone so far in their war on women that even the most horrifyingly conservative woman I've ever met is starting to have a problem with it.

  10. I like the idea of communicating that Santa represents the spirit of giving and friendship in Christmas that we share with others. I'm Christian, but I think someone who gives presents is a little easier for little kids to fundamentally understand than Jesus. Unfortunately, I know little kids don't have the best grasp on the idea of symbol vs. real person, so I'm not sure how to communicate that to a three-year-old. I think my parents helped the transition along by reading The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus to me when I got older, which illustrated that distinction really well. One warning though - the first chapter of that book is absolutely devastating and still makes me choke up when I read it. It would be far too dark for a little kid.


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