The realms of faith and doubt have been colliding in our house lately.
Owen seems to believe that shows he watches, even animated ones, feature “real” characters. He thinks he can visit the Care Bears, or the pteranodon from Dinosaur Train. He asks whether I would like to visit Tidmouth Sheds (from Thomas the Tank Engine), like asking if I would like to visit the grocery store. When I tell him that these are just shows, and that, while animated, they are no more real than the stories in his books, he seems surprised, disbelieving.
At Christmas, like a good lapsed Catholic (fake Catholic? cultural Christian?), I told Owen all about Jesus and Mary and Joseph, and how many people believe that Jesus was the son of God, but that he also had another Daddy, Joseph. “But is it true?” he asked, and I had to say, “I don’t know. Some people believe it, some don’t.” And I talked a bit about the story of Jesus and why people remember him.
He pushed the question. “But God is real?”
“If you believe he is, he’s real. No one sees him, but lots of people believe in him.”
“God is real like Santa Claus is real? Because no one can go to the North Pole? But Santa is real? And no one can go to Heaven? But God is real?”
And what can I say? Yes? Sort of? Change the subject, before it’s too late?
Owen is fascinated with the boundaries of life and death, of the body and the spirit (or ghosts), with heaven, and why we can’t go there until we die. He wants to know what it’s like. “Is heaven nice?” he asked this morning. Then he continued, “But that other place with the fire is bad, right?”
The problem, of course, is that I don’t know what I believe. I believe enough not to say I don’t believe. I want Owen to have the choice to believe if he wants to. I want him to know all the stories and rituals he needs to understand the culture he lives in. I really do want him to associate Christmas with Jesus and Santa Claus (not to conflate them, but still). But just as I can’t explain the rules of most sports, so I feel ill-equipped to talk about religion. For now, I guess I am just trying to foster belief in something, be it fictional or spiritual.