When I was a child, I was convinced that an elderly, obese gentleman would bring me whatever I asked for if I was "good" all year. My experience of the world was slight at that time and, as children must, I relied upon authority figures: parents, older siblings, and teachers. They were all in unanimous agreement about this gentleman, down to the minute details. I had no reason to doubt them. At the end of the year I did receive gifts which I was told this gentleman had brought.
But there were (what now appear to me) fantastic details about this gift-bringing man:
In trusting those close to me to help me perceive the world aright, I believed all of the above. In my view of the world, all of these things had to be possible. So, it seemed, I lived in a very small world (since one could visit every house in the world in one night) populated with elves and flying reindeer, and where I was under constant scrutiny by unseen eyes.
It wasn't that I was incapable of distinguishing between fairy tales and reality. I knew Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella were "make believe" stories told for the fun of it. But Santa Claus (as the elderly gentleman was called) was always presented as a real man. The proof of his existence could be seen and felt in the form of the gifts he brought. Milk and cookies left out for him on the night of his visit would be gone the following morning. The illusion was complete.
As I grew older I began acquiring some first-hand experience of the world, and it soon became apparent that my world-view was not in harmony with the facts. The world was too large for one man to visit every house in one night, and one man could not possibly keep tabs on everyone's actions. But this meant that those I trusted had lied to me! They had told me this story to "trick me into being good", as if my nature were inherently evil. This was a crushing blow. I felt like I had been set back several years in my attempt to understand the world around me. I would have to start all over developing a world view. I vowed never again to blindly trust authority, but to determine from my own experience what was true and what was false.
But even with that determination, another story I had been told at the same time stuck with me unchallenged for decades. This is especially odd when you consider this story's strong parallels with Santa Claus. I was told the following about another "elderly gentleman" who brought a reward at the end of one's life if one were "good":
Adults who admitted to their culpability in the Santa affair, were adamant that this other personage (whom they called "God"), did in fact exist. Disbelieving in Santa made no difference; your parents supplied the gifts in any event. But, disbelieving in God would result in an eternity of torture: being continually burned in a fiery "hell". In light of these dire consequences, I did not have the courage to question this belief as a child, and carried it into adulthood.
Eventually, however, I did begin to question what I was taught on this subject. I will be sharing these thoughts with you in this book. Today, it appears to me that God has been used by those in authority to "trick us into being good" in much the same way as Santa is used by parents on their children. What has been particularly frightening about this is how those wielding this authority throughout history have defined "good". Often their definitions have been worse than the natural behavior of the majority of the individuals they have controlled.
Beliefs ingrained in us from childhood which are carried into adulthood are seldom questioned. They seem to become almost a part of our personality. It is a bold endeavor to examine such beliefs and agree to open-mindedly attend to the arguments of a non-believer. The fact that you are reading this book indicates that you have a courageous heart searching for the truth, whatever it may be. For that, I commend you, and thank you in advance for hearing me out rather than dismissing such thoughts out of hand.
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