Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fairy Tales

I can't recall ever having been under the impression that Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny was real. I don't think my parents ever presented them to me as other than fictional characters. There was not a lot of the elaborate game-playing on Christmas Eve in our house that goes on in a a lot of houses. I don't recall ever leaving a snack out for Santa. I also don't recall ever believing in the Stork. My parents told me and my siblings where babies, and venereal diseases, come from, and about the methods used to prevent VD and pregnancy, while we were still small. I tended to assume, as people do, that my state of affairs was typical. It was quite a surprise to me when, as a teenager, I gathered that other teenagers were getting pregnant and/or getting gonorrhea without quite realizing what was was happening to them, and when I was shushed in the presence of small children when the subject of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny came up, because, apparently, the tykes, or at least some of them, believed in them.

Snipe hunts and religion I had to figure out on my own, the former either because it never came up with my parents or because they thought that snipe-hunting was good fun, and the latter because my parents are practicing, believing Christians, and raised me as one. They were quite frank and straightforward with me about what they believed.

I wonder how many people go to church, or to their synagogue or mosque or some other form of temple, because they think it's good for the kids. That the last thing you want to do with a young child is be frank and straightforward with him or her about the big world and all the scary stuff in it. Preserve their innocence! I gather that some conservatives think of the masses, when it comes to religion, as children, whose innocence should be preserved: they themselves are atheists, but still think that religion is good for most people. The ones who are meant to grow out of it, will. This attitude seems to have been taken by more than a few leading citizens in Graeco-Roman antiquity. Nietzscheseems not to have cared one way or another what the masses believed. In the foreword to the Antichrist, Nietzsche describes his few readers, and then remarks, "Was liegt am Rest? Der Rest ist bloss die Menscheit." ("Who cares about the rest? The rest is merely humanity.")

It's tempting to adopt an Epicureanattitude like that of Nietzsche's, to focus on oneself and a small group of friends like oneself. I was going to continue "But[...]" and point out how it is less practical to behave that way in our time than in Nietzsche's or Epicurus'. But is it? Is the notion that there is a point to trying to live for more than a small group, just another fairy tale, a modern, would-be democratic one?

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