Atheist Stories Pt. 2: The Little Scientist
When I was very young, I wanted to meet a dinosaur someday. Maybe I even would have liked to keep one as a pet like on The Flintstones. I, of course, knew that I couldn’t, at least not until such a time as the technology in Jurassic Park could become a reality. Until then, I would just have to settle for my large, stuffed Dino the dinosaur toy.
My earliest memories are of staying up late with my father watching Paleo World, wishing that the animatronic dinosaurs shown were more realistic. I was fascinated by dinosaurs and prehistoric history. I would be enthralled listening to Bob Bakker and Jack Horner speculate on the behavior of Tyrannosaurus Rex.
I remember the blank looks I would get from the employees at Chuck-e-Cheese when I would attempt to exchange my handful of tickets for a Parasaurolophus figure. After repeating the animals name a few times, I’d finally say, “The dinosaur with the thing on its head. No, no, not that one. That’s a triceratops, silly.”
Oh yes, I was all about the dinos. All about history. All about science. I was even slowly developing a very basic understanding of evolution. I didn’t want to be Miss America, or a teacher, or a nurse, or a mom, or any other role that society and toy companies market heavily to young girls. I wanted to dig in for dinosaur bones. I used to proudly say that I wanted to be a paleontologist some day, at an age where most children might not be able to pronounce that word. My father seemed pleased with this.
He was not so pleased, however, with holes I’d dig in the yard. I once dug a holes so deep that I dropped my little sister into it, leaving only her head sticking out. To my amusement, she was unable to climb out again on her own. Of course I realized that I probably wouldn’t find any dinosaur fossils in my yard, and certainly not so close to the surface as I could dig. I could still enjoy pretending that I was on a dig site. I knew that I wasn’t really a world-renown paleontologist/adventurer extraordinaire and that I wouldn’t really discover the remains of some new species of enormous therapod hidden just under the paving stones. But I could still pretend, at least until I was caught. Make believe is fine when you’re aware that it is just that.
I once dreamed of being a paleontologist. Religion, specifically Christianity and the creationism is afflicted my mind with, ruined that dream. For those years, I had no dream anymore. I was told I must “please god,” in what I did with my life, but such vague instruction doesn’t give me any solid career leads. I wonder, now that I’m freed from the grip that denying reality in favor of myth had on me for so long, if it’s not too late to revisit my old dream. I think a little girl digging in the dirt would be pleased.
Or has the hole in my scientific education left by years of creationist “teaching” too much to make up for now? I lament that I will never know who I’d be, how I’d think, what I would know, or what would be doing right now had I, in my youth, the courage to reject the lie that is the Bible.
Although my family was not particularly religious, and did not pray or attend church or speak about religion at all, this “God” fellow seemed to keep coming up among people I encountered quite a bit. I remember, in kindergarten, watching a girl configure two magnets into a plus sign, saying “I’m making a cross for god.” I had no idea what a god was or what the connection to the letter “t” might be.
That was how I usually heard people talk about god, when not preaching.
They would mention god in references. When anyone spoke about god, it was in a sort of abstract, impersonal sense much as in the manner a child might use when mentioning about The President or the Queen of England, and always with the sense as if referring to an idea, rather than a person you could expect to ever meet.
It’s easy to get children to believe in god. Everything is new and amazing to us. If airplanes can fly, why couldn’t donkeys talk? Talking animals sounds like a lot of fun anyway. As for god, it made little more sense to question that he exists than to question that The President exists, as young children aren’t interested in watching the news anyway. Children have little to no frame of reference as to what is real or plausible, so we mostly just trust the adults around us to know what they’re talking about. This gullibility and trust is often exploited for the amusement of adults in the form of tooth fairies and Santa Clause.
Speaking of Santa Clause, I never believed in him. Oddly, it wasn’t the flying reindeer that tipped me off. Why couldn’t there be flying reindeer? After all there were flying squirrels, right? Yes, I once thought that flying squirrels could really fly. The feat of hitting every house in one night didn’t bother me that much either. At the time, I had no concept for how big the planet was.
I realized that, no matter what mall I went to or what time, Santa was there all throughout the holiday season.
Why? Shouldn’t he have important work to do anyway? And how did he deliver presents to my home even though my chimney only lead to my furnace, and not to any fireplace? And about those presents, if Santa brings them, why did I need to write a list for Grandma? Why did I find these presents unwrapped in the attic moths ahead? Why were there the same number of presents under the tree the night before Christmas as there were the night before? And why did none of the presents say that they were from Santa, rather than Grandma? I caught on very quickly that I was being lied to, and I didn’t appreciate it one bit.
I remember even feeling insulted when adults would try to talk to me about Santa, as if he were real. It’s not that I wanted all mention of Santa removed from the celebration. Although Santa is a myth, he is at least, a fun myth. I only wish the myth would be treated that way.
My mother would get angry at me when I said aloud that Santa isn’t real. She would tell me that I must continue to play along and pretend that Santa is real, even though I knew that he wasn’t, so that my younger sibling would continue to be deceived. Apparently, the truth spoils the fun and it would be cruel of me to upset my siblings to become disillusioned. Yes, it was my fault for telling the truth, not mom’s fault for lying in the first place.
My Kindergarten and first grade teachers seemed to be of the same opinion. I was not to speak the words “Santa Clause is a myth,” lest any of the other students be bothered. Surely it was some sort of character fault on my part to “ruin” the “harmless” beliefs of others by simply telling the them the truth or even just encouraging them to question the whole Santa Clause business.
Much to my regret in hindsight, I mostly kept my mouth shut about Santa Clause, conforming to the rest of the class and my family in acting as if Santa was or even could be real. The thought didn’t cross my mind at the time, but looking back, I wonder how many of those other children also disbelieved in Santa? Maybe there were others, but they either remained silent on the matter or played along. Possibly, they had been told the same thing that I was: “Don’t ruin it for others.”
I wonder what would have happened if one student boldly stood up before the class and declared “Santa Clause is not real.” Would the other students have argued that he was? Might that bold student have been laughed at for her disbelief and forced back into silence? Or would the entire class gasped in sudden horror and broken down in tears at the shocking revelation? Would that student forever be the villainous Grinch who ruined Christmas for everybody?
At the time, I was sure that I was alone in a sea of believers, the only one knowing the truth but sworn to secrecy. I had been coached to think to think that this was indeed the case. In reality, however, I doubt now that many of my classmates then actually believed in Santa Clause by the time they made it to first and second grade, but were just playing along for the same reason that I was. Because no one spoke up, each of us was certain that we were alone is our disbelief, and because we thought we were alone, we didn’t speak up. Those few who perhaps truly did believe in Santa, or who at least would like us to believe in Santa, were the only ones that had a voice, so were the only ones who had power.
I have another mental image. Maybe instead of being met with negativity, the bold child would be validated. What if the student, fed-up with the patronizing and insults to her intelligence, boldly stood at her desk and addressed the class, again saying “Santa Clause is not real.” The class would fall silent and all would stare, but the student would remain standing all the same, unwavering. Then one student, then, another, then another, would stand up and proclaim “I don’t believe in Santa Clause either!”
Soon, the whole class would be standing standing and cheering, each pleased to see that they weren’t actually alone as they had believed. Each seeing that they could quit the ridiculous charade of pretending to believe in something they knew to be false. They would all learn the virtues of honesty and courage. They would learn that there is freedom in truth such as can never be found in lies. Those students would still enjoy Christmas, if that’s what they celebrated, but then they could do so in a more mature way. And those students could still enjoy the stories and iconography of Santa Clause without having to pretend to believe he is a real person.
Those students who weren’t quite sure if they believed in Santa or not would realize that disbelief was, in fact, an option. Those students would realize that it was perfectly OK to question the existence of Santa Clause and admit to disbelief if that’s what they came to. Maybe they’d stand too before the spontaneous event in the classroom was through. Those few students who would remain seated would at least have the seed of doubt planted in them, now wondering what reason they had for believing in Santa. No doubt these believing students would eventually come to the realization that he isn’t real on their own, given time and the space to do so.
Maybe then the adults who had pushed the fairy tale on us all would see the error of their ways. Maybe then they would realize that children are more intelligent than believed, and that it might have been wrong to lie to them. Oh, what a marvelous scene that would be, to see a room intended to be a place to inform and expand young minds actually utilized as such, rather than merely another setting of cultural conformity, censorship, and revisionist history.
Then, when the event was through, we’d all go on making Santa out of various crafting materials, the same as we were doing before. We might even sing songs about Santa too. And watch movies about him. The difference being simply that we no longer needing to pretend that Santa was anything other than a fun, yet still entirely fictional, character.
I don’t kid myself though. Scenes like I described are the stuff of Oscar-Bait films and just don’t happen in reality. Looking back now, I think that the bold student most likely would have been answered with a chorus of “Duh!” and instructed by the teacher to sit down and shut up, thoroughly chastised for speaking at all, even a truth. Still, it’s a pretty dream.
I didn’t doubt the existence of god though. Honestly, I didn’t even give it much thought. I just took the existence of god for granted, putting it in the same category as The President, rather than where he belonged, the category that Santa Clause fell into. Maybe if men dressed as god (however god might dress) routinely appeared in malls for children to sit on, or if teachers had giggled while their class made macaroni art of god, I might have caught on.
Maybe what I needed was some bold person to stand up proudly, without care for what other’s will think of the words, boldly declaring, “God is not real.”