Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Are You The Tooth Fairy?"

Recently, at D'Ma and DagoodS' blogs, there has been discussion of how open to be with others about deconversion or altered religious beliefs. We all make decisions each day about how transparent to be with others. Do we share how we really feel about the dinner our spouse made? Do we admit when we're hurt by some one's comment? Constantly we're weighing the cost/benefit ratio. We ask ourselves what will be gained by telling the truth. We wonder if anyone will be hurt. We ask ourselves if we can handle the repercussions.

Last week, my husband and I faced these questions when our 7-year-old insisted on knowing if we were the tooth fairy. Back at Christmas he began intense questioning about Santa and came very close to adamantly declaring that mom and dad were Santa. At the time, we were able to turn the questions back to him and deflect the matter. This time around, he was not to be easily assuaged. We had previously determined that we would tell him the truth whenever he had clearly reasoned things out and wanted to know the truth, asking us directly. We didn't want him to question his own reasoning abilities. We didn't want to continue long after it quit being a way to infuse magical moments into early childhood when pretend is a powerful way to understand and enjoy the world. Developmentally, my son is just not there anymore. He was using the scientific method to determine whether we were the tooth fairy. Though he is still young, he has outgrown the ability to suspend reality in order to hold onto his belief in Santa. We tested his emotional readiness to hear the news, hoping he might not really want to hear it. We did this by reminding him that the exciting mystery of not knowing exactly what the tooth fairy was like would be gone if we answered his questions. Though he chose not to find out the night the tooth fairy was to come, the next afternoon he let my husband know he was ready for the answer. Though he was saddened to learn that we played the role of the imaginary creatures, he readily agreed to keep quiet for the sake of his younger brother. He was quite proud of his ability to pretend along with the grown ups. Some times really are better than others for being open and honest.

This topic of sharing the truth came up in Sunday school class today when discussing our understanding of God and what we should share of that with others. Our teacher noted that he wouldn't share with college students struggling with their faith what he has learned from recent scientific scholarship about the impossibility of humanity descending from just 2 individuals (thus no literal Adam and Eve). Because this topic is important to me, I sent him an email. Here is a portion of it:

"Also, I was interested in your Adam/Eve comment and your tendency to keep some biblical scholarship to yourself to prevent ruining others' faith. That is a difficult topic and I do sympathize with the desire to protect peoples' faith. However, there is also a way in which we're setting people up to lose their faith by basing it on a misinformed understanding of scripture which mounting evidence in the sciences can easily refute. The more educated the believers are, the more likely their faith is to fall when they have no other framework for understanding the Bible than a literalistic one that can't withstand the scrutiny of biblical criticism, ANE studies, biochemistry, geology, astronomy, etc. Over time, people will become more informed. As you mentioned, there is already a shift in beliefs based on current understandings of our world. I don't know what the answer is, but people do need to get more educated. For myself, I find it increasingly difficult to attend a church which seems to ignore large swaths of academic literature across a variety of disciplines. The fact that we can't admit in class that we accept the scientific consensus that homo sapiens didn't originate from 2 humans really bothers me. I have to hide many of beliefs at church and pretend to be who I was many years ago. I save my theological questions for those few I have found at church and online who are not only educated about the relevant issues but open to considering them from a broader framework. I'm not really expecting anything from you by writing this, I just feel strongly about these issues and feel like you're someone who can tolerate hearing what I'm saying and perhaps be somewhat sympathetic to it. I would never say anything like this in class!"

Telling the truth is a bit like walking a tightrope. Telling it the right way, in the right time, to the right people is an impressive act to watch. Telling it the wrong way can be disastrous! What do you think? What have your experiences been?


  1. My wife and I have had some interesting Tooth Fairy discussions with our daughter (also 7).

    She had pretty much worked out that we were doing the Tooth Fairy's job, or maybe she heard it in the school playground, I guess that is always a possibility.

    Anyway, the direct question came and we answered truthfully that yes it was us and no the Tooth Fairy didn't really exist.

    However, when the next tooth came out she still insisted on putting it under the pillow for the 'Tooth Fairy'. When we reminded her that shes didn't really exists and it was Mummy and Daddy her reply was that she didn't mind and liked the pretend. I can't remember exactly what it was she said, but that was the essence.

    So, despite knowing the truth, she likes the pretense. I am fine with that and my wife and I shall continue the pretense. Its all part of growing up and parent / child bonding as far as I am concerned.

    As for Sunday School. I am still working out in my mind how I feel about that. It does bother me that I have no idea what is exactly being told to the children in Sunday School and I am pretty certain that the teachers don't have the same scientific knowledge and understanding that I have and so will tell my daughter things that frankly I don't want to be told her. Especially things that are wrong.

  2. I'm really struggling in this area of knowing exactly what to say to whom and when to say it. I know at some point I'll have to face my fears and tell those closest to me. I'm still working that out.

    Limey has a good point about the pretense. I think a lot of people are like that with religion too. Ultimately they know we couldn't possibly have come from Adam and Eve but they still are happy to ignore the reality because they enjoy the pretense.

    When I was, I'd say, around six or seven I woke up early on Christmas Day. I went to see if Santa had come yet only to find my parents placing the gifts under the tree. When they saw me there they said they were putting the presents under the tree because we had no chimney. Santa had to leave the gifts by the door and left instructions for them to follow. I didn't really buy it. I knew they were Santa, but I also ignored that fact because I was afraid if I said I knew they were Santa he'd stop bringing gifts.

    Maybe grown ups are like that too. They've believed that God/Jesus does all the good things in their life for so long that if they admit they no longer believe the good gifts will cease.

  3. I had a similar conversation with the pastor of the church we were attending, who has a very strong academic grasp of modern academic study of the bible, accepts evolution and higher criticism, etc. He had a similar take as the pastor you describe. His concern was that different people in the audience (congregation)are at different places, and someone with a "simple" faith might have their faith shattered, not having the ability to study the findings of modern science and higher criticism and have their faith evolve into something different. At the same time, he is a person who very much wants to push things forward in evangelicalism and puncture fundamentalist dependencies.

    I'm with you and not comfortable with that. I absolutely do not want be in that position, of staying quiet to let people hold onto cherished but false beliefs, but I suspect it will remain inevitable to some degree.

    I feel that if something is real it can stand up on its own, and if it can't stand up because it is false, let it fall. But that's because I don't see "faith" per se as something worth holding onto in that manner.

    Regarding the tooth fairy, she is my favorite example of the thought you are describing, because at least in my experience there is minimal emotional attachment to her, compared to Santa as the main guy. And perhaps as the Easter Bunny as runner up? The tooth fairy is just some nice story in comparison.

    I've used her as a teaching exercise for my children. I have never to this day admitted the tooth fairy is not real, even though my kids know with certainty she is not. They argue with me, and give me compelling reasons why she could not be real, and I come up with preposterous rationalizations (apologetics!) to dismiss their arguments. "Dad, you're the tooth fairy!" "That's impossible, I couldn't fly through a window, and I don't wear dresses..." We have a lot of fun with it, and they are hopefully being inoculated with critical thought.

  4. Limey,
    They grow so quickly, don't they? My 7 year old is sad that all his friends believe so he can't talk to them about it. Regarding Sunday school, we've already had occasion to correct his instruction. It is a challenge to know what to do. So far, I'm ok with taking him and discussing what comes up and providing more instruction as needed. He was recently told that men have one fewer ribs than women today because of God removing a rib from Adam.

  5. D'Ma,
    Humans definitely have a tendency to believe that our thoughts influence things so I see your point about some adults believing just to keep the blessings flowing.

  6. Atimetorend,
    That's a fun way to handle the whole tooth fairy problem. Maybe I should have talked to you last week before this all went down!

  7. I am like you--I've always had a difficult time with the superficial questions discussed in any Bible study I've ever attended. Good for you for sending that e-mail. I am very interested in hearing their response. It sound like your church is leaps and bounds more progressive than our former church where we got disciplined for asking about the possibility of expanding the children's ministry!

  8. Like a Child,
    He didn't directly respond to my comments about being more open with the congregation about current scholarship. He responded to direct questions I asked in an earlier portion of the email. I give him credit for sharing more scholarship with our class than most do in the church of Christ. I would just like to see us do more of it. There aren't that many people at my church that I would email like that.

  9. DoOrDoNot,

    I remember being told the rib thing as a child, we were even challenged to put our hands on our sides and feel them and count them. Some of us had difficulty with the supposed missing one but no one questioned it and I believed it for a long while.

    If daughter came home having been told that I am pretty certain I'd go balistic. Then I'd show whomever the evidence and make it clear that they were wrong.

  10. @limey,

    About a month ago I'd gone with my dear friend and her husband to see a film. On the way home, for some reason I can't now recall, the subject of how many bones a person has in their body came up. Dear friend looked at her husband(both in their late 40's) and said,"You've got one less than I do, don't you?" To which he replied, "Sure do, you've got one more rib than me." Before I even thought about it I said, "You do know that's not scientifically, physically true, right?" They just looked at each other and then me and said, "Are you sure? It's in the Bible." I just let it drop as they were visibly not pleased that I said it.