Telling Creation Stories to Children

A subject that I’ve asked about here before has come up today on Jesus Creed. They’ve shared a letter from someone who accepts that the Genesis creation accounts can rightly be called mythology. The question that is now being asked is what the appropriate way is to share these stories with a child, and to talk honestly about them, so that the child grows into adulthood not with a literalism that sets them up for an unnecessary crisis of faith, but allows them to transition to a mature appreciation of the stories as such.

Perhaps one of the most important things that comes to mind is telling children the literally true story of our origins – what we know about the evolution of the cosmos and of life on this planet. I’m still wrestling with the question of how to cultivate appreciation for stories that are not literally factual in the same way as the information the natural sciences provide, without setting a child up for an unnecessary crisis of faith. Then again, I sometimes wonder whether some sort of “crisis of faith” is not inevitable in growing up, with the real problem being those who try to avoid such a crisis by clinging to a childish view of myths as “factual” even as adults.

Anyway, I’m sure any thoughts you have on this subject would be welcome over at Jesus Creed as well as here!

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  • I've wondered about the same thing with my kids. I sometimes think of things like Aesop's fables, or other stories with a message. Children (or adults) don't seem to have a problem shifting between the non-literal and the message of the stories, and enjoy learning the lessons all the better for the story. And they foster great dialog. I wonder if it is a more natural process for them than we sometimes think it is.However, it is complicated by our children (and us) growing up in a world where some make a Big Issue about taking the Genesis story literally. So there are times I need to address the topic head on with my children. I tell them specifically I do not believe it is a literal story, but that doesn't mean the lessons should automatically be disregarded.

  • I try to instill in my children faith AND skepticism, literalism AND mythological understanding. We read it literally and I try to push them towards the mythological. Further, I try to teach them of science, theories and all, while trying to teach them that something like this is not a test of orthodoxy. Of course, for a 7, 5 year old and 4 month old, it's a little much right now. I figure start young by giving them the steps to make their own decisions when it comes to such matters.

  • When a child is small, the world is a capricious place and his life is almost completely subject to the whim of others. As a result, the idea that there is a beneficent omnipotent God in control is very comforting and intuitively makes sense.As the child grows, he finds every day that there is more and more that he controls. As his confidence in his ability to effect his own future grows, the comfort he once drew from the idea of God being in control becomes less important.I think most young people will go through some crisis of faith as they approach adulthood because the reasons that God made so much sense when they were little no longer resonate. Of course, once they get into adulthood and they enter the working world, they often find that their control seems to be decreasing rather than increasing and the world may once again seem become a capricious place.I have known people who claim to have been traumatized when they discovered that there was no Santa Claus, but I suspect that it was because their parents went to extraordinary lengths to maintain the illusion. For those who are allowed to learn the truth in the ordinary course of things, I don't think there is any great harm. I suspect that the same is true of other myths.

  • Jay

    I would agree that telling children what we (humanity as a whole) know about evolution and cosmology is very important, but unfortunately most parents are woefully unprepared to do so. That includes parents that don't subscribe to a literal interpretation of Genesis. When I was around 7, I went to a birthday party at a friend's house, and she had a coloring book of Bible stories. I distinctly recall being puzzled by the absence of dinosaurs in the Creation portions, because every 7 year old boy knows that dinosaurs were around before people. I asked my parents about it when I got home, and I don't think I'd have gotten more worried looks if I'd asked how babies were made. It wasn't because my parents were literalists, though. It was because they simply had no background knowledge of biology from which to draw an answer more useful than "they didn't know about dinosaurs when they wrote the Bible".

  • Jay

    @Vinny -Good points there, but I still see a lot of adults who cling to the notion that God is some sort of puppetmaster who directly influences everything from who they marry to what color shirt they put on in the morning. Having not been brought up in such a worldview, that seems very uncomforting to me. My son told me a while back that he'd figured out the Santa Claus buisiness a couple of years ago, but kept going along with it because he didn't want to ruin a good thing.

  • With my own kids, I've always told multiple stories of creation … Bible stories (telling the various stories found there as different stories) … evolution … native Canadian mythologies. I have always found that they loved the different versions, and it was a very playful time.As an Anglican priest, I've tried to do the same thing, but on a much more limited scale since I don't put all of these kids to bed.I've discovered that kids are pretty good at taking stories as stories. They're not as bound up with literal factuality … they know that stories are told 1) just to have fun; and 2) sometimes to make a point.

  • Jay,I think those people are probably coming from the same place as those who are traumatized when they find out that their myth is untrue. They were all too heavily invested in their myths. Unlike the traumatized, however, they cope by clinging to the myth even tighter.

  • I like the Anglican priest approach. It's a good way to get kids to appreciate humanities interest in a question they no doubt have. The Genesis account is no better or worse than other ancient peoples accounts as far as accuracy or morality. I think as a part of the cultural heritage children should be familiar with Genesis. I mean other nations may have founding stories as good as our (U.S.) but all kids in the U.S. should know about Washington and Paul Revere. It should be explained that these are old fables though. Beyond Genesis' scientific errors it also has moral short comings. DO we want to teach that women are the source of humanities suffering or that we die because we disobeyed God's arbitrary rules?On the other hand the myths can give meanings to things that a brief history of time cannot. Genesis best messages are, the world is good, and life can be unfair (as with so many other tales of how death came into the world, Genesis has a naive humanity tricked by superior beings).Perhaps some poet/philosopher/scientist should make a new updated Genesis? i mean our genesis is an updated version of the Sumerian. An update every 3000 years wouldn't be bad.

  • Mike, I think someone has done precisely that. I'll let you know if I remember who and where.