Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about my concerns about reading Bible story books to my daughter Sally.
Any atheist parent with religious relatives will have to figure out how to deal with the Bible story books their children will inevitably be given for birthdays and Christmas. This is something that’s been on my mind lately because a Noah’s Ark board book has suddenly become my young daughter’s favorite book.
Some atheist parents may just return Bible themed story books when their children receive them as gifts, and that’s fine, but I didn’t want to do that. Now I know I could just read them to her and not differentiate between them and any of the many other stories she reads, but I’m not sure she’s old enough to understand myth yet and I’m still, I think, a bit gunshy about the whole thing.
So I’ve taken a different tack altogether. I just change the books’ content. My daughter can’t read yet, after all. (Is this where I put an evil smiley?)
The comments section of that post lit up with readers urging me not to be so worried, to just read them to her like I might any other story. This was one post where I felt like I gained a lot from the comments. You were all right. My main concern at the time was that Sally had no concept of God, so I wasn’t sure what she would take away from the books, but I was letting my old baggage carry over. Just because Bible stories were something more than stories to me growing up didn’t mean there was any reason they would be more than that for Sally.
At the advice of commenters, I both bought some books of mythology from other cultures and began reading Bible story books to Sally in the normal fashion. I began loosening up about the whole thing. A story is a story, I told myself resolutely.
What with Christmas approaching, I thought it best to read her the nativity story. I knew she would be exposed to elements of it here or there, and hey, it’s an important part of Christmas for many Americans and she ought to know that. Cultural literacy and all that! The only thing I’ve added to the regular words is explaining that when it says Jesus was “the son of God” it means he was “a very special baby” [edit for clarity]. She enjoyed the story and has asked for it a number of times since I first read it.
Well, just the other day I heard her “reading” the nativity story to her baby brother Bobby. (She’s in preschool, so she can’t actually read yet.) Anyway, Sally had it turned to the page of the annunciation, when the angel appeared to Mary to tell her she would have a baby, and here is the fragment I overheard her say:
…and then Mary’s fairy godmother came…
You remember that Sally’s on a princess kick, right? Yeah. I turns out that she doesn’t see the story about Mary and Joseph as any different than the stories about Ariel, Repunzel, or Cinderella. And why should she? As Christmas approaches I’ve also read her stories about Santa. She’s currently convinced Santa is real. Also, the other day we were talking about mermaids, and she informed me that they are real too, and absolutely not pretend. Fairies too, she said.
See, Sally doesn’t differentiate between stories about princesses or Santa and stories from the Bible. Peter Pan? Joseph and his coat of dreams? The Cat in the Hat? The Polar Express? They’re all just stories right now – stories she apparently thinks are all real, of course, but she’ll grow out of that.
And so, somehow, I’m not afraid of confusing Sally by reading her Bible stories anymore.