Parents. The Anti-God
I’ve been expecting you.
My son Henry (he’ll be six soon) and I were taking a walk last night. We live on a quiet street with a lot of trees. It was a lovely night, the heat from earlier in the day having dissipated.
We were talking about how things work, in some abstract sense. I said that some or other process was natural and that natural processes were working all the time all over the place, even inside of him.
Then he asked: ”Do you mean nature is everything? Like all over the world?”
I answered: “Well, yes.”
“‘Cause my friend L at school told me that God is everything.”
Henry will start Kindergarten in the Fall. He is attending pre-K summer school for a few weeks to get acquainted with the school and staff (which have both been excellent by the way).
“Well,” I answered, “we don’t really know about any gods.” (Notice the use of the plural “gods.” Divide and conquer!)
“I thought gods were like, for fighting,” he stated.
I knew where he was coming from: “Yeah, like Thor, he was a god.”
“He was a Norse god,” he clarified.
“That’s right, and people have told stories of all kinds of gods.
There were Greek gods and…”
“I like Baldur the Brave.” He interrupted.
On we went talking about the Norse gods and the European people, primarily the Vikings of course, that invented them. When we arrived at the fountain not far from our house we played superheroes. He cast himself as Iron Man and chose the role of the Hulk for me.
As a parent I’ve been surprised almost every day by all sorts of things. I was not surprised by our short theological conversation. I know that children are fed all sorts of silliness as truth and that they pass the stories along to their peers. The friend that told him about his god probably has no idea that there are many kinds of people who have many kinds of gods, or no gods. I’m certain that his friend has little or no appreciation of the specifics of the faith, if there are specifics, that he is being led into.
His young friend probably doesn’t know whether his faith has a place of eternal torture for most everyone. He almost certainly has no knowledge of his faith’s stance on gay people, the rights of women, science or sex. All he knows is what someone he trusts told him about the world. From “God is everything” usually comes “God loves you so you should love God,” then “God tells you what to do and what to think,” and “God says what you really think and feel is bad, these groups of people are bad.”
These leaps follow fast upon the last, as fast as children grow and learn.
My son has been heavily into superheroes for most of his life, so it’s natural for him to relate stories of magic and supernatural beings to superheroes. His love of superheroes can be the hook to hang the gods on, intellectually. The more dangerous part of this game will be emotional. If people of faith are able to apply enough threats and fear they can override the power of thought. Then they’ll have him.
We’ll keep up on what he, and his little brother that we’re expecting in a few months, think about reality. From very early on we’ve talked and will continue to talk about what is real, what is fantasy, and how to tell the difference. A bullshit meter and the confidence to question are essentials and they have to be installed and reinforced early, certainly before one is trapped by fearful superstitions.
We’ll also continue to read, watch, and enjoy our superheroes. They’re a fantastic way to explore real questions and they’re also a lot of fun.
Greg Lammers is the American Atheists Missouri State Director. He works with freethought groups and individuals in the state and the region to promote secular values and godlessness. He lives in Columbia Missouri with his wife Katie and their young son Henry, and another son coming soon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org