Do not abuse a child’s innate faith
My son Jacob is used to having his leg pulled, so when I tell him something that he has trouble believing, he usually thinks for a moment and then asks, “For real?” or “Is that true?” If it’s a joke, I say so right away. But if I affirm that it’s really true, he believes it. He takes me at my word.
That is sobering. It makes me think long and hard about what I tell him is definitely true or definitely not true, versus what is probably true, possibly true, or probably not true. (I’ve also grown very comfortable with saying “I don’t know” and “What do you think?” especially if I’m not well informed on the topic.)
Even if I still believed in God, I would not be able to tell Jacob in good conscience that God definitely exists. I would only be able to say, “I believe that God exists.”
To take a mere belief and present it to a child as a fact is to abuse that child’s faith. The child is misled — not only with respect to the topic at hand but also with respect to knowledge itself. The child ‘learns’ that believing something very strongly is as good as knowing it (or maybe even better). Critical thinking is de-emphasized or dismissed.
A parent may rationalize: “As long as my child believes the right thing, it doesn’t matter why.” But if ‘strong belief’ is the main (or sole) criterion for judging what is true, what does that parent suppose will happen when the child encounters a culture with different, more strongly held beliefs?
I’m disciplining myself to say, “This is what I know, and this is how I know it” — and, by contrast, “This is what I believe, and this is why I believe it.”