So that means we don’t plan to do the Santa Claus thing.
Now, I love the Santa Claus story – how he represents the generosity and charity we should exhibit at Christmas and all year long – and we plan to share all of that with our daughters, but he’s not real, so acting like he is doesn’t make much sense to me. It seems a step or two beyond the usual playing along with our kids’ active imaginations – the kind of fiction in which we happily, and healthily, engage nearly every day.
Of course, that means we will also have to teach the importance of not destroying the Christmas of some poor classmate who does believe in the existence of Santa Claus. We’ll see how that goes – my experience with little girls is that they are not well-equipped for keeping such information private – but if we’re successful, we’ll also have taught the importance of discretion and tact when confronted with people who disagree with their worldview.
Which brings me to the Bible.
Because, let’s face it, we live in an area of the country in which belief in the literal words of the Bible is dominant and vociferously defended. But the girls will grow up in a household that believes much of the Old Testament is – to use a modern word that doesn’t accurately capture the intent of the biblical authors – fiction.
So at some point we will move from “God created the world in seven days” to “God created the world, but the process involved slow change over billions of years.” How do we do this while, 1. keeping their faith intact, and 2. helping them understand that many of their classmates likely will not agree?
The first part didn’t bother me so much. They will have to confront scientific reality sooner or later, after all, and I’d rather they do it when we can answer their questions and talk about how science and faith fit together in our lives.
But yesterday, as we drove home, our older daughter, age 3, was talking about how she learned in school about the “mean king” who said no to God when God told him to “let my people go.”
“But that didn’t really happen,” she said next. “It’s just in the Bible.”
The fact that I agree about the unlikelihood of the exodus story being a literally true event notwithstanding, she’s not exactly old enough to discuss the historicity and purposes of the Pentateuch. Nevertheless, it’s an earlier start than I was expecting in the discussion about what we do with the Bible while we acknowledge that its oldest stories are not being supported by science or archaeology.
Because the Bible should be held to at least the same standards as Santa Claus, I’m not going to lie about it. Which means the easy response – “Of course that story happened!” – is out.
So how do I communicate the fact that the Bible is a reliable source for faith and morality but not necessarily for history or science … to a 3-year-old? I chose simplicity.
“Well,” I responded, “the Bible will tell you the truth about everything you need to know.”
I’m not sure she understood – or was even paying attention anymore. But, of the two of us, I don’t think she was the only one who needed to hear me say that.