Last week I read an article about how a small pharmacy in Watford, N.D., had started prescribing a bottle of "Monster Spray" to kids who were afraid of the dark. The instructions on the bottle read: "Spray around the room at night before bed, repeat as necessary." Jokingly, the piece stated that the spray "had proven quite effective over the years."
I posted the article to Facebook with a comment: "What to do if your kids are afraid of monsters." Quickly though, someone replied with, "Why not just teach them that they don't exist?" I could understand the person's perspective, and it got me to thinking: Is it a good thing for us to allow our kids to believe in imaginary beings?
Culturally, we tell our kids -- from a very early age -- tales about a lot of pretend beings, some we depict as fictitious, others we do not. Most kids I know recognize that comic book type superheroes, Disney/Pixar animated films and literary fairy tales are imaginary. But very few kids I know believe the modern Santa, Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy are frauds. (I am guessing those same children can't read this article -- I'm not trying to smash any childhood fantasies.)
That being said, if we are willing to perpetuate the myths of potentially good imaginary beings, it seems pretty logical that kids would believe in monstrous ones as well. Of course this is not to say there isn't cultural resistance to perpetuating these fables. Many Christians I know refuse to acknowledge the Easter Bunny or Santa, arguing that these imaginary beings somehow lessen who Jesus Christ is in the perceptions of their children. Complicating the issue even further, those in the New Atheist camp, would extend such anti-imaginary ideas to God as well, arguing that if you don't have repeatable empirical evidence, then no such deity could possibly exist. The issues have understandably become significantly muddled.
Personally, I think we use metaphors of the imaginary to explain to children things they might not yet be ready for emotionally in the world. When I was a child I received a letter from Santa in our trailer park's community mailbox. It is the first piece of mail I ever remember receiving. In the envelope was a small, thin golden reindeer Christmas tree ornament with "Christopher" engraved on it.
Now, my parents weren't particularly religious but they sent me the letter because of a very religious reason. They wanted me to know they cherished me. When I got older and learned the truth about Santa, I realized the reality was far better than a fable. It wasn't some Arctic stranger who loved me, it was my family. The ornament has been on our Christmas tree every year since.
Metaphors of the imaginary often explain to us what the world is really like before we are able to fully comprehend it. And how we use them is important. There are indeed monsters in the world, heroes and heroines, and those who give charitably to others. But we miss the point of these metaphors if they are minus relationships because the relationships yield the proof of the actuality, of the evidence behind the story. How we treat one another and the love we exude is an essential part of what it means to be human.
That is no myth.
The Rev. Christopher Benek is the associate pastor of family ministries at Providence Presbyterian Church. Read his blog at www.christopherbenek.com .