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The Easter Bunny, Jesus, and other mythical figures April 7, 2012

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Belief, Education, Religion.

In The Washington Post, pastor Mark Driscoll shares his strategy for explaining the subtleties of holiday traditions to children:

My wife, Grace, and I choose to tell our five kids that the Easter Bunny, while fun, isn’t a real, magical bunny that hops from house to house laying colored eggs, candies, and toys on Easter morning. That’s a make-believe story, and we have no objections to fun and imagination so long as the kids also know that the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact and not a fanciful myth. With the overt commercialization that comes along with the Easter Bunny, and consequently Easter, as parents we don’t want to lose sight of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But that doesn’t mean those things are bad in and of themselves. We simply want to enjoy them in their proper context. We are for fun. We are for Jesus.

As with many things, we redeem the idea of the Easter Bunny. We tell our kids that the Easter Bunny is a make-believe character from a non-Christian holiday. We tell them that years ago in Germany children would build a nest for the “Easter hare” to lay her eggs in, and that it wasn’t until Germans immigrated to the United States that this tradition was widely accepted and practiced here. We stress that Easter is a time for us to remember the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but that the Easter Bunny is a make-believe character who has been adopted as the official Easter mascot.

We take the same approach to the Easter Bunny the way we do with Santa Claus at Christmas.

Yup, Driscoll has a Santa policy, too:

Since Santa is so pervasive in our culture, it is nearly impossible to simply reject Santa as part of our annual cultural landscape. Still, as parents we don’t feel we can simply receive the entire story of Santa because there is a lot of myth built on top of a true story.

… We tell our kids that he was a real person who did live a long time ago. We also explain how people dress up as Santa and pretend to be him for fun, kind of like how young children like to dress up as pirates, princesses, superheroes, and a host of other people, real and imaginary. We explain how, in addition to the actual story of Santa, a lot of other stories have been added (e.g., flying reindeer, living in the North Pole, delivering presents to every child in one night) so that Santa is a combination of true and make-believe stories.

We do not, however, demonize Santa. Dressing up, having fun, and using the imagination God gave can be an act of holy worship and is something that, frankly, a lot of adults need to learn from children.

What we are concerned about, though, is lying to our children. We teach them that they can always trust us because we will tell them the truth and not lie to them. Conversely, we ask that they be honest with us and never lie. Since we also teach our children that Jesus is a real person who did perform real miracles, our fear is that if we teach them fanciful, make-believe stories as truth, it could erode confidence in our truthfulness where it really matters. So, we distinguish between lies, secrets, surprises, and pretend for our kids.

Driscoll is so unaware, his writing reads like satire. Sadly, though, it’s not: he really believes this stuff. He really is comfortable asserting that Jesus’s resurrection is historical fact, as if it were a well-established truth that no sane person could doubt. He’s oblivious of the fact that to those who haven’t been indoctrinated by Christianity, Jesus is a mythical figure just like Santa Claus. After all, flying reindeer from the North Pole isn’t more ridiculous than walking on water and coming back from the dead.

I think Driscoll is right to be concerned about lying to children, and about the importance of distinguishing fact from fiction. But the crucial question is: How do we know what’s true? Driscoll seems to think the answer is: Whatever our parents tell us. But the fallacy of that approach is obvious. If Driscoll had happened to have been born in Saudi Arabia, for instance, he would be teaching his children that Allah’s revelation to Muhammad is historical fact, while Jesus’s resurrection is a lie.

The only way to gain reliable knowledge about our world, and to correct the mistakes of previous generations, is by using the tools of the scientific method: evidence, reason, skepticism. We should teach children to evaluate claims critically and to think for themselves, not to unquestioningly believe whatever their parents believe. The stakes could not be higher, because our actions are motivated by our beliefs: people really are killing each other over disagreements about mythical characters and fictional books.

Superman could totally kick Jesus’s ass, by the way.

(via Why Evolution is True)