My six-year-old daughter is not only a natural-born atheist, but she is, despite her parents’ best efforts, a Santa skeptic. My wife and I have made a concerted effort to avoid influencing her beliefs about the supernatural, with the exception of Santa, of course. Yet, this six-year-old Bertrand Russell has managed to back her lying parents into a corner on numerous occasions regarding the activities and existence of Santa Claus, who she equates with Jesus and cartoon characters. Here is an approximation of a recent, almost Socratic dialogue I was forced into by my daughter:
Kahani: Santa gives presents to all the kids in the world, right?
Me: Yes, Hani (pronounced Honey)
Kahani: Every kid?
Me: Of course! Santa wouldn’t leave a child without presents (stomach ulcer forming from lying so hard)
Kahani: Even kids in Africa?
Me: Yes, even kids in Africa. (Hating myself)
Kahani: Now I know you’re lying!
Me: How so?
Kahani: Because kids in Africa have no food.
Me: Some kids in Africa have food and some do not, this is true. What’s your point?
Kahani: Okay then, so some kids in Africa don’t have food. Let me ask you this: Why does Santa give kids presents?
Me: Well, Santa rewards good behaviour…(Interrupted)
Kahani: No! Why? Why does he do it? What’s his reason?
Me: (Internal monologue: Fuck, fuck, fuck! I know where she’s going with this now) Because he enjoys making children happy!
Kahani: But not all kids, right? He doesn’t like making starving children happy, does he?
Me: (Internal monologue: ……….I know! I’ll do the religious apologist’s side-step!) If Santa isn’t real, why is it that when you go to bed on Christmas Eve there are no presents under the tree, but when you wake up, there are presents under the tree? (I say this with a scoffing and confident tone to sound convincing)
Kahani: Easy! You and mum go to bed later than me and Seamus so you hide the presents in the cupboard and then put them under the tree when we go to sleep, but I don’t care about that. I already know that! You said Santa wants to make children happy, and I said not all kids, right? So? Does Santa care about poor kids?
Me: Yes, but Santa can only give presents, not food.
Kahani: Why did he leave candy in my stocking last year? That’s food!
Me: Candy isn’t real food (Internal monologue: Shit! That’s a terrible argument)
Kahani: Okay then, what is candy? Is it a drink? (said in a smart ass tone with a laugh)
Me: You can’t live on candy.
Kahani: So Santa can’t give children what they need? He only gives them toys and candy?
Me: (feeling relieved) Yes! Exactly!
Kahani: And he does this to make children happy?
Kahani: If you were starving and Santa gave you a toy, would that make you happy?
Me: (fuck, fuck, fuck!) No, it wouldn’t.
Kahani: So he’s magic – he can fly around the whole world in one night – he can make toys and candy, but he can’t feed starving kids, even though that would make them happy? I don’t believe you. Santa isn’t real. He can’t be. He’s just like Jesus. It’s only a story for kids.
Me: Many adults believe in Jesus.
Kahani: Yes, but they’re like kids.
Me: Why do you say that?
Kahani: Because they believe everything!
Me: No they don’t. They don’t believe in thousands of other gods and supernatural creatures.
Kahani: Yes, but you said some people believe that Jesus died, then after three days he came back to life and floated into heaven.
Me: That’s right. Some people believe that.
Kahani: Do you believe that?
Me: My beliefs aren’t important right now.
Kahani: So no, then.
Me: I’m not saying no and I’m not saying yes.
Kahani: I just think it’s silly that adults believe those kinds of things. Those things are like cartoons! They’re not real.
Me: How do you know they’re not real?
Kahani: Because they’re silly!
Me: Okay, do you think it’s silly that even though it looks like the sun is rising, it is actually the earth moving around the sun that makes it look like that?
Kahani: We all know that the earth goes around the sun, because we watched Cosmos (Neil deGrasse Tyson’s television series).
Me: What if the man on that show was wrong about it?
Kahani: Are you for real?! He’s a scientist!
Me: Scientists can be wrong. Scientists used to believe that the earth was flat.
Kahani: Yes, but they’re much more careful now!
Me: Why do you say that?
Kahani: Because they’ve had heaps of practice at being careful and that’s why we have computers and medicines and stuff.
Me: What if people who believe in Jesus have gotten more careful too?
Kahani: What do they make?!
Me: That’s not the point. I mean, what if they have ways of making sure they believe the right thing about Jesus?
Kahani: There’s no way! They just believe. That’s it!
Me: Okay then, why do so many people, billions of people, believe that Jesus is the son of a god, and that he rose from the dead? (cringing on the inside over my own use of the argumentum ad populum fallacy)
Kahani: Just because people believe stuff it doesn’t mean it’s true.
Me: That’s true, but how do you know that you aren’t wrong?
Kahani: Because I’m not an idiot! People don’t come back when they die and magic is just kid’s stuff.
Me: You’re a kid! Why don’t you believe this stuff?
Kahani: Urrgg! I am a kid, but I’m not a stupid kid!
Me: Anyway, time to go to sleep. Stop trying to keep me here to help yourself fight sleep.