When I Was a Child...
By Farell Till
(The Skeptical Review)
The apostle Paul once said something that makes me think of gullible Bible believers every time I read it: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways" (1 Cor. 13:11). Children believe many outrageous things. They believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and all sorts of things that they heard from their parents, who had read them fairy tales and other fantasy literature. As children grow older, however, they discard these childish beliefs, except for the fantasies they were taught in church. Somehow many children grow into adulthood and eventually die without ever giving up the religious fantasies they learned as children.
I often wonder why. I remember an early childhood trip that my family made from Southeast Missouri to Memphis. Christmas was approaching, so I suppose my parents were making the trip to buy presents for my brother and me that they would slip under the tree and fool us into thinking that Santa Claus had brought them. They didn't know that my brother, who was in the first grade at the time, had been telling me that he had learned at school that there was no Santa Claus.
I didn't want to believe him, but that trip made me accept that my brother was right. The trip to Memphis was only about 90 miles, but along the way, we passed through towns, which although small seemed like cities compared to the town of 415 that was only a couple of miles from our family farm. We went through Hayti and Steele, Missouri, and then through Blytheville and Osceola, Arkansas, and finally came to Memphis, the city! I remember thinking on the way back that there was no way that one person could go to all of the homes I had seen that day and leave gifts for the children, so how could he possibly go to every home in the world? At the time, I had no idea how big the world was, but I knew that there were far away places like China, because my mother used to tell my brother and me that the starving children in China would be glad to have the food we were leaving on our plates.
I guess on that day, as far as Santa Claus was concerned, I became a man and put away the childish belief in a jolly fat man in a red suit, who went all over the world taking gifts to children who had been good. I don't remember if this had any effect on my belief in the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, but at least one belief in fantasy bit the dust that day.
Religious beliefs were another matter. My mother took my brother and me to Sunday school, where I saw grandparents, aunts, and uncles who obviously believed everything that was said there. When we went to my grandparents' for dinner, we always had to bow our heads while my grandfather thanked God for what we were about to eat. I suppose that because so many grown-ups whom I trusted and respected believed the religious fantasies taught in church, I too continued to believe them well into adulthood.
In childhood, believing in some of those religious fantasies wasn't so hard to do. I could believe in the virgin birth, because I thought that my own mother was a virgin too. When I first began to hear the facts of life on the school playground, I thought, "No Way! My parents would never do that." Tales about angels and spirits? Why wouldn't I believe them? My father and uncles, in a time when there was no TV to watch, used to sit around telling ghost stories that made my skin crawl.
About a decade into my adulthood, I began to wonder seriously about a book riddled with tales of animals that talked, of ancient patriarchs who routinely chatted with God and received visits from angels, of men who could perform great miracles parting the waters of a great sea and sometimes walking on water, of people who could interpret dreams and see into the future, of people who could walk unharmed through the flames of a fiery furnace, of people who rose from the dead, and so on ad infinitum. Eventually, I reached a point where such fantasies were as hard for me to believe as the one about Santa Claus.
In other words, when I became a man, I put away childish things. I have often wondered why preachers in particular, who should have enough familiarity with the Bible to recognize the fantasies in it, rarely put away their childish beliefs.
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