Easy! “Nope. The ancient Greeks made him up – they created stories about the Gods because it was a way to help them understand the way the Universe works. For example, Poseidon: nowadays, we know what causes storms, but thousands of years ago, they didn’t have meteorologists or computers or, well, science. So they believed that Poseidon caused storms at sea.”
“Oh. Do you believe in God?”
And here is where we part ways, me, and the Me who thought I wouldn’t have to deal with this until his first viewing of The Ten Commandments. That was my first exposure to the Judeo-Christian thing. (Well, the Judeo part, anyway.) Yul Brynner! Chuck Heston! Now there’s a Bible movie!
If only it were that simple.
Coming as I did from a mixed (Jewish mom, Catholic dad) non-practicing (Christmas was all about Santa, and we’d open one present during Hanukkah, a shout-out to the Chosen side) family, the Cecil B. DeMille Version of the Bible was all I knew, and really, all I cared to know. The Jews had all the cool stories. Angels of Death, giant floods, massive battles – the Old Testament was a Michael Bay movie before there were MIchael Bay movies. Plus, the Christian kids in Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Illinois – well, they weren’t too fond of Jewish kids, so much so that I made it a point to keep that part of my heritage to myself. (I already had a bowlcut and glasses – no need to add “Jesus Killer” to the bullies’ lists.) I always figured that if I did get religion, I’d go Old School – eight nights of presents? Count me in!
But there’s Religion, and there’s God, and believing in one doesn’t necessarily mean you believe in the other. As I grew older, my worldview was shaped by real events, not imaginary/allegorical ones. To me “God” was and remains a crutch, a justification, an excuse, a fantasy, and I’ve known far too many people who’ve reinforced my opinion. To be sure, I have friends who are deeply spiritual (not religious); to me, their goodness is innate, and whether or not their beliefs shape them or they shape their beliefs, I have no way of knowing. (I think it’s both.) We live by our own hand. I didn’t miss out on anything by not going to Church or Temple, because I reveled in having the freedom to figure out the mysteries of The Universe on my own. Is there a God? I don’t know, and I don’t care.
Pretty heavy shit to unload on a six-year-old.
I didn’t want to lie to him. Frankly, I don’t want him going around thinking that the Earth was created in six days, or that if he’s “bad” he’ll go to Hell. He’s already heard this from some of his classmates, kids whose parents take them to church on Sundays, where they’re taught that mythology is truth. I’m not particularly worried that he’ll buy into it. He’s got a scientist’s heart: he wants to know why owls hoot, what causes earthquakes, how long it takes to get to the Moon, where water comes from. In all cases, the actual explanation is so much more fascinating than the fanciful ones. I want facts to be his Psalms.
Then again, I get that there’s a comfort in him believing that Someone’s watching out for him. Because, really, isn’t that what Santa is? Mom and Dad may fuck up – we forget stuff all the time. “You said tonight was Pizza Night!” But despite our seasonal threats, Santa will be there, and he’ll bring presents and order. Lucas sees his dog, once a four-legged tornado, limping up and down the staircase. He remembers losing his Nana. Death is real, and it’s out there, waiting. Where’s the harm, I wonder, in letting him think that God and Heaven are too?
So I didn’t lie. “I don’t know”, I said to him. Then, a question, because while I may not believe in God, I do believe in my son. “Do you?”