My views on lying to children about such things as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are well documented. To present inane fabrication as fact is problematic on many levels. Imparting preposterous notions that contradict children’s evolving worldview results in confusion. Even worse, eventually children realize that the most important authority figures in their lives have been shamelessly lying to them. What possible valid explanation can a parent have for a child who discovers she’s been lied to for years?
So at the time the lies are told, they are confusing. And when they are revealed as such, trust issues ensue.
Ironically, the truth would be instructive and valuable. Wouldn’t it be great for a child to understand that his parents know him well, and work hard all year to get him presents he will enjoy at Christmas time? Or that her parents recognize that losing a tooth can be painful and traumatic, and take the time and expense to slip a few dollars under her pillow so she can feel better about the whole thing? Instead, lies, confusion, and eventual betrayal. Makes no sense at all.
But Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, as detrimental as they are to a child’s development, pale in comparison to other non-factual information commonly imparted as fact by parents to their children. This information is not debunked over time, but is instead continually reinforced through adulthood by other authority figures. And this information, when misrepresented as fact, only serves to differentiate people from each other and create a culture of division, exclusion and, in many cases, hatred.
The non-factual information I refer to, of course, is religious belief.
As I have mentioned before, I respect religious beliefs even though I don’t have any myself. Everyone has the right to believe whatever they choose to, but your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man's nose begins, or, in this context, your right to a belief ends when it disrespects, belittles, or in any way harms others. If we all agree that when it comes to anything other than scientific fact, everything is an opinion, then any belief is as valid and worthy of respect as any other belief, and in that light beliefs become harmless. When people hold up their beliefs as facts and truths, however, they are implicitly disrespecting all other beliefs, since other beliefs are, in their view, untrue and not worthy of respect. And if what you believe is not worthy of respect, well, then neither are you.
We live in a world where, for reasons I cannot possibly fathom, religious belief and even fervent devotion are considered positive traits. But how can anyone fervently believe something that is not in evidence, and is instead a purely artificial construct? The answer, of course, is faith. And the more faith you have in what you happen to believe, the less you will respect what others believe. The less you respect what others believe, the more likely you will be to consider yourself superior to them. So you will want to foist your beliefs on others, and you will want your beliefs to become law. The ludicrous notion that one religion is somehow superior to another spawns such things as religious fanaticism, terrorism, wars, and other horrific events that have plagued our history.
Religion is, no doubt, valuable and comforting for some. Religions generally provide structure and guidance that many people find helpful, even critical, in their lives. But if we would all keep in mind that, at their core, religions are nothing more than elaborate, glorified fairy tales, and that everyone has the right to believe in the fairy tale of their choosing, the one that works for them, then the swinging arms of belief would end far before others’ noses begin.
After all, one fairy tale cannot be “better” than another since neither purports to be the truth.