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Thursday, November 20, 2008


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I've often heard atheists and secular humanists refer to gods as imaginary friends for grown ups, but lately I've really come to understand just how true that is. My daughter (4 1/2 years old) has had imaginary friends pretty much since she started talking. At first, we had Cheeky Munks, a monkey small enough to sit in your hand and ride in your pocket. Then we added Boom Finch, a zebra, also small enough to sit in your hand and ride in your pocket. These were fairly unsophisticated imaginary friends, as you might expect from a child around 2. Eventually, they sort of disappeared and were replaced by "Jerry". Since we don't actually know anyone named Jerry, it's a bit of a mystery as to where the name comes from.

The interesting thing about Jerry, at least to me, is that his attributes change according to the needs of our daughter. Sometimes he's a green frog, sometimes he's a cat, sometimes he's child of 2 (when DD needs someone to boss around), sometimes he's 16 and can drive. Jerry provides comfort and company for her, she can talk to him when she's lonely or doesn't want adult company at home, he either does what she wants or does what she can't do (like drive) according to her emotional needs at the moment. It really strikes me that religion seems to be an extension of the human desire to control the universe through our imaginations, but sometimes that gets carried a bit too far and becomes more real to some people than the actual life they lead. It's understandable-who doesn't want to control their environment? Who doesn't want a friend who's guaranteed to always be there and always be safe?

That's living in denial, though, and seems to me to devalue the human relationships in our lives. I've heard a great many theists, especially Christians, place their "relationship" with God above their family and friends. That seems horrible to me. How can you live in such denial about reality that you would make a deity more important than your spouse or child? Regardless of whether you believe in a deity or not, we humans are all confined to the same ball of dirt, and even if we atheists are wrong and there is an afterlife, all religions seem to have the common belief that what you do on earth determines what sort of afterlife you lead. Doesn't it make more sense to treat all people kindly, to place other humans above petty differences in religion? I understand that to some, those difference are not petty, but it saddens me to see dogma take precedence over caring and compassion. Especially dogmatic belief in imaginary friends.

It's not that I object to imaginary friends. After all, they spring from the imagination, possibly the most powerful, most important human attribute, and something that we try to foster in our daughter as much as we can. However, when we play along and get too serious, our daughter reminds us "Jerry is imaginary, he's not real!".

I love Jerry. I'll miss him when he's gone. God, on the other hand, I don't think I'd miss at all.


Podblack said...

Hello! Just responded to your question on my blog (Podblack) and then I see you already have a link to the Littleton group on your blog! :/

At any rate, is there a particular person within CFI that you were after? I might be able to poke around my contacts and see if there's someone useful... K.

mathyoo said...

I don't know who exactly I need to contact. I did contact someone from the CFI site, and they said they would forward my info to the right people, but I haven't heard back. I just really think that having a decent secular organization with lots of families would be something I would want to belong to. The secular humanist group here seems to be mostly older people and they only meet on Sunday evenings, which is tough for those of us with preschoolers or elementary school-age children.

CyberLizard said...

Maybe the polytheists have the right idea. Create a deity to represent various aspects of life and then pick and choose which ones to honor at which time, based on circumstances. It would certainly reduce the logical convolutions that the monotheists have to go through to explain how their god can be all-loving, yet smite the hell out of people.

Your dog just got run over? That wasn't [insert gods name] fault; [insert other gods name] was responsible for that

See? Much easier than a one-size-fits-all god ;-)