I usually speed-delete emails from particular relatives of mine who are still steeped in urban legends (women be warned: there’s a rapist under your car!) and the Southern Baptist beliefs we were raised in, with all their fire, brimstone, and intolerance for non-believers. I’m so over God that their emails bore, rather than infuriate, me by now. For some reason, though, I opened this one and learned that the previews I’d been seeing for the big budget “fantasy/quest” movie The Golden Compass were really for a movie about kids killing a senile God so “everyone can do as they please.” I’d planned for months to take them when it opened next month but not now. No way this apostate wants her kids seeing that.
Unbeknownst to me, British author and atheist Phillip Pullman wrote a best-selling trilogy of books, His Dark Materials, explicitly in response to the religiosity of The Chronicles of Narnia,” in which God is an imposter, angels are sexually ambiguous and the Church kidnaps, tortures and assassinates to achieve its goals, one of which is stealing children’s souls.” In the face of the usual backlash, the movie has been toned down and the books’ anti-religiosity beclouded and muffled into mere spectacle. Reasonably fearing that uninformed parents will enjoy the bowdlerized movie, buy their unsuspecting children the books upon which it was based, and infect their own young with atheism, the believers are in an uproar. Leaving aside the entirely valid notion of why it’s ok for the religious to try to convert others but not the other way around, unless you’re consciously raising your kids to be atheists or agnostics, why put them through the emotional anguish of dissing, let alone killing, God? Today’s kids have enough on their plates what with roofie-laced toys from China and the sky-high divorce rate. Why give them Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny but give them the straight skinny on God?
I made the painful decision not to raise my children in church, as I had so thoroughly been, because I simply don’t buy the theology nor much of black religious culture. Imagine how I’ve seethed to learn that someone, I’m not sure who, has been indoctrinating my six-year-old with fundamentalist Christianity. Quite purposefully, given how often short-attention-span boy brings it up. From nowhere, he started talking about God and how when people die they “go up in the sky and make cookies with Jesus.” He’s so smug and zealous when he says it, I want to shake him. But I don’t disabuse him of the notion. That would only confuse him, make him sad, and most of all, make him intransigent in his “belief.” If God makes him believe that there’s justice and retribution in the world, when so often there isn’t, fine. He’s only six. I’ve got time. In the meantime, God often comes in quite handy.
My son (let’s go with “Lefty”) lost a tooth while away from home recently and brought it back with him, despondent that the folks he’d been with hadn’t taken care of Tooth Fairy preparations. Assuring him that she just hadn’t known where to find him, we settled in to write a long note explaining where’d he been and that, since he was back home, homey was waiting for his payday. The note went on and on as he officiously dictated and I played stenographer, finally ending with a list of sweetly stupid questions like if she found all the houses with her radar, how she visited so many houses in one night, etc. While I wasn’t too worried that he’d recognize my handwriting, scrawled as it was across the full page he’d dictated, I didn’t want to press my luck and had no idea what to answer in any event. Then, it hit me. I changed colored pencils and wrote in block letters: Dear Lefty. Then, big enough to fill 98% of the page: GOD. Love T.F. He bought it hook, line, and sinker. He even believed that God and the TF had put his tiny little tooth and a dollar in that ziploc baggie so it wouldn’t get lost while he thrashed.
“Killing” God is a bit heavy on the symbology, even for a 48-year-old agnostic. Why go there? I have no use for God. I wish y’all would stop bringing it up. But, having done so, let’s just let that sleeping dog lie, shall we? Until, of course, my 6- and 4-year-olds are maybe 12 and 10. That gives me six years to teach them how to think and, more importantly, how not to fear where their thoughts lead them. Then we’ll be cuddling up with both the Chronicles of Narnia and His Dark Materials. Let the contest begin.
Here’s the kind of “training” my smug little boy will soon face: Why would a God who loves humanity make it rational but then make the most important thing in the world (religion) a-rational? Why give us a mere lifetime to figure everything out but an eternity to pay for getting it wrong? I’m not saying these questions are dispositive. I am saying, however, that whoever’s been feeding Lefty religion had better be prepared to feed him some answers. In the end, I don’t care if my kids become believers, atheists, or agnostics. As long as they can go toe-to-toe with Mom.