Motivating Children into the Kingdom

Its with a little bit of trepidation that I write this post, because I am stilling working through what I think on the subject. However the subject has been nagging away at me for some time.

It all started a few months back when my daughter brought a friend home from school and said friend then joined her at our church for early evening club. The church runs a very popular even club for pre-teens and teens. The church is located in a very good location close to the town centre and so an evening youth club makes sense. Its popularity as a hangout is not at all surprising.

What started bothering me was when my daughter got excited about getting an extra point for bringing a visitor. Apparently there is a points system in place and kids get points for attendance, bringing a guest and various other things. Those with the most points at the end of the term get a prize. At least I think that’s how it works. What bothered me was the motivation in bringing along a friend, was it to have fun or to get a precious point? Given the age, its more likely to be the former; however, the excitement displayed over a single score point did get me thinking.

Part of the reason for my concern was also the fact that the invite came from the children and the parents were faced with the request to join a club where saying no would mean denying their child a fun and games evening for reasons that she would not understand. So I think the potential for putting the parents in an uncomfortable position did bother me. As it happens the parents were more than happy to let the friend start attending the club regularly and we now share lifts to save on car journeys. It turns out that friend’s older sister also attended the club when she was the same age; so in this particular case no harm is done. That doesn’t mean it’ll always be that easy though.

What is a fair way to Motivate Children into Faith?

I don’t have an answer to this question.

I am pretty certain that in my Christian years I would have been okay with this as a motivation for children to evangelise and bring friends into a church environment. Nowadays I am more cautious and wary of such overt indoctrination, as a child I too was indoctrinated.

I think its pretty safe to say that there are atheists whose view of religion is so negative that this form of child motivation will be viewed as wicked and manipulative. Yet they’d probably be okay about using the same tactic to bring children into a youth equivalent of Sceptics in the Pub, assuming such a thing exists; objecting because its religion does seem the height of hypocrisy. My earlier concern about the parents’ response works both ways anyway.

I don’t really see any way in which I can legitimately object to this situation but yet the fact that it exists niggles at the back of mind. I think I’ll just have to put it down to my current state of faith abandonment and accept that things like this will occasionally bug me and I’ll have to get over it.

Why is Santa such a Problem for Christians?

It was a long while after I became and adult that I first started to wonder about Father Christmas and what the Christian approach should be to the Santa myth. I think it wasn’t until I knew I was to become a parent that I really began to ponder it seriously.

What if my child draws a parallel between Santa and Jesus and concludes that they must both be in the same state, either real or myth? How do I make a distinction between them? These questions can only point to some sort of Cognitive Dissonance in the mind of the thinker.

I decided very quickly to be relaxed about it and face the questions as they came rather than to try and manipulate a position.

A modern problem?

As a child I never recall their being any issues about Santa. I knew from very young Santa was a myth, but a fun one and that Jesus and very real. The primary school I attended in Zambia always made a thing of giving all the children presents at the end of the school year and one of the fathers would always dress up as Santa and give out the presents. It was always fun guessing whose dad it was.

I don’t recall much of a Santa fuss at home though. We had stockings, but I don’t recall any pretence on there being a Santa. He wasn’t utterly ignored though, he was spoken about as though he existed, but it was always in tones that you knew were not really believed. Very much how I talk to my daughter about him really.

A few years back, I recall chatting with Christian friends about Santa and they were concerned about how to approach the issue and whether or not to reveal the myth and what to do about them telling school friends who might still believe.  It wasn’t a trivial issue, that’s for certain. One father in particular had a very real issue about the Santa Myth. He was a recent convert, married to a long time Christian wife. He had been a very fierce atheist and part of that atheism came from his realising as a child that Santa and company were a myth. As a result of all those childhood myths he rejected God too. His conversion was very emotional and he carried the fear that his children would follow the same path and him, so his view was tell them it’s a myth from the beginning and tone the whole Santa thing down.

My wife’s family has always had a Santa tradition and they have always had the concept of ‘tree presents’ small gifts that they always mark as from Santa to the family members. They are never anything fancy, those are the main gifts given from them. They enjoy that aspect of giving and I see no reason why it should be stopped, I take the view that it adds to the ‘magic’ of Christmas and does not in any way devalue whatever meaning one wishes to attach to the season.

The Unexpected Conversation

This year my daughter threw me a curve-ball. It was just her and me in the car and she started asking about why we bother with the pretence of Santa. I don’t know when it was that she worked out Santa wasn’t real, it certainly wasn’t this year, it been a couple of years at least. She is seven currently. She’s also known for a couple of years that the Tooth Fairy is just Mummy and Daddy pretending and she is okay with that. I suspect that when she twigged about the tooth fairy she also twigged about Santa; maybe she asked us at the time, I can’t actually remember.

Anyway, the point is, she knows and has done for some time. So she asked me directly, why bother when we know its bunk? Nothing like the directness of a child to catch you off guard!

I asked her to expand.

Her thinking seemed to be that it was silly to put up all the pretence of there being a Father Christmas making and delivering presents when everyone knew that he wasn’t real. She makes a good point.

She didn’t seem to have a problem with the Santa themed decorations and cards, or even the story, it was the talking about him as though he really did do the things the story says he does that causes the problem for her. I tried to counter by saying that talking about Santa as if he were real adds to the ‘magic’ of Christmas and that Christmas would lose something if we didn’t have the fun pretending. She didn’t buy any of that at all. While she didn’t actually say it, I suspect she basically considers it lying and therefore not good.

Where does that leave Santa?

In this modern era of rationalism and proof, is there any place for Santa? I’m not just talking about Christians here, but everyone.

Personally, I am okay with the myth and I don’t mind the pretence and I think if you leave out Santa, you leave out an essential part of the Christmas tradition.

What about those poor disappointed kids who believe for years and get very disappointed when they discover they’ve been lied to? Well, the important thing there is to ask why the parents made it so real for so long. In our household its works out okay, Little Miss Limey hasn’t had an earth shattering shock and we’ve not tried to perpetrate the myth beyond credibility. If we’ve got the balance right its more by accident than design and so I can’t offer any formula.