Between Christmas and New Year I had the opportunity to meet with some friends and at one point during the evening we began discussing the role of Santa Claus in raising children. As I was thinking about what was said on the way home I recalled an article I had read in the ‘New Scientist’ which discussed whether teaching children about Santa Claus is a ‘harmless fantasy’ or whether it is a ‘cruel deception’ . This then led me to consider whether believing in God is a similar relationship?
I admit that I believe in God, but for the purposes of this post I want to suspend that belief. The reason being that I want to compare it with believing in Santa Claus who I know is not real.
The article argues that although some people are against teaching our children something that is false, there is some evidence to suggest that it might serve some important functions. Believing in Santa helps to teach the importance of reciprocity in relationships, it assists in the development of imagination and helps children cope with stressful situations. But are these reasons sufficient to teach your child about God even if you knew it was wrong, and more importantly maintain it.
But is such belief a form of abuse, as Richard Dawkins argues. When asked about the sexual abuse of the young by religious leaders, Dawkins replied that ‘horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up catholic [or in any other faith - my note] in the first place’ . Dawkins also believes that God should be given up at the same time as Santa Claus.
I would be horrified if someone believed in Santa past the age of 16, but I am not sure I could go so far as to say it is a form of child abuse. I have a friend with a bright child who ‘figured out’ that Santa was not real and to prove it he set up a video camera watching the tree over Christmas Eve. Knowing what was happening, the father arranged for a member of the Ward to dress up as Santa and bring the presents around. Now, I personally do not agree with this, but I am not sure it is abusive. If this continues then I would fear socially for the child, but the same could be said about believing in God.
So is believing in God a form of child abuse, assuming God is not real?
1. Gail Vines, The Santa Delusion: Is it harmless fantasy or cruel deception? in New Scientist, 22/29 December 2007, pp. 36-7
2. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion [London: Bantam Press, 2006] p. 356.