I, in total, have 6 younger siblings. In the following story I am going to talk about the same sibling I talked about here. In part I want to tell you what I, as an atheist, say to my younger and impressionable family members with regard to the sensitive issue of religion. And this story starts when I came back from the gym and found my brother had come home from school with a present.
My seven-year old brother came back from school with chocolate; some of it was for me. I ate it. I then tried to figure out what he knew about the Christian Easter story. So I asked him exactly this: “What do you know about the Easter story?” I didn’t dwell on the word story. He knew the basics: Jesus wore a crown of thorns and carried his cross to a place where people then nailed him to the cross, he died, the people put him in a tomb, and three days later he rose again.
That is not a bad memory for a 7-year old. I explained that the Bible isn’t actually sure if Jesus carried the cross himself, because Simon of Cyrene may have helped. The reason we don’t know is because more than one person wrote about the story of Jesus dying, and they confused some details. My brother then talked me through the decorated box he had brought chocolate back for me in. There was a cross, a hot cross bun, a bunny rabbit, an egg and some other stuff. I didn’t ask him what a mammal (i.e. non-egg layer) giving out eggs had to do with Jesus or death or resurrection, but it is something fun to ponder.
And that was it. I don’t talk about religion with my little brothers. This is, in part, a social experiment. It’s an uncontrolled experiment and it has contamination from the oldest of my younger siblings (who does talk about religion with the little ones). But, still, it’s interesting to watch them develop their own opinions. For example, another brother once told me he still believes in Santa Claus, but not in God. When pushed, my brothers reason for not believing in God was “there’s no proof”; his reason for believing in Santa was “that’s where the presents come from” (let this be a reminder: the limitations of your imagination are not the limits of reality). Continuing my digression, that also answers the question I have about Christmas and children: when children see all the Christmas shopping adverts, they see the wrapping paper in their house, they see the toys in the shops, so do they ever put two and two together and realise that parents do the shopping and the wrapping? Apparently, not as young as eight.
So, slightly fuller of chocolate and richer in knowledge of the tiny chocolate box by brother had designed with pagan fertility symbols, but still gross from the gym, I went to get a towel to have a shower. My brother was heading towards the same bathroom. In my dad’s house (where I live because I’ll be damned if I’m paying rent when I’m back in the country for one week at a time; I haven’t been in one place for longer than a week since January) there are 4 toilets, so I asked him if he could go to another toilet because he’s heading to the only shower (except for my dad’s en suit). He said “you’ve got to be kidding me” (cheeky for a 7-year-old, isn’t he?). He then closed the door, locked it, and took a long time to do his business. When he came out I told him that wasn’t very nice because it would have been easy for him to use a different toilet. He then asked me “will I go to Hell now?” What do you say to a 7-year old that asks that? I said “Do you really think God is going to put you in fire, forever, just for that?” and he said “I don’t think I believe in God”.
I told you it was interesting. A little later we talked about the myths of Slender Man, because he had heard of Slender Men through some game or another, and the Danish “Men in Black” because I knew something about them from a short stay in Denmark. The myths are very similar, and I had to explain to my brother that they are old stories that probably come from the same story. I then had to explain that they are old stories, even though one of them is a computer game; it’s a borrowed story. I then had to explain that it’s an old story even though the Slender Man wore a tuxedo; it’s a modernised version of the old story. My brother told me both stories must be lies because if they were true they wouldn’t be similar, they would be the same. He’s seven, and I think that is some impressive thinking for a seven-year old.
I then had to explain the difference between a lie and a story that someone thinks is true, even if it isn’t true, and a story that someone tells because it’s fun and not because they want you to think it’s true. This has led me to believe that giving children a lot of stories at a young age, and equipping them with critical thinking skills, stops them believing religious stories. Although, like I said, this experiment is rife with contamination, and it might just be the eldest younger brother telling him there is not God.
Perhaps next I’ll tell you why I celebrate Easter…