Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Girl Gets It

"OK, this time nobody knows which is the good ball and which is the bad one," my niece, Suzy, said with an impish little smile.  Barely standing tall enough, she moved the billiard balls into position across the green felt, with a few renegade strands of straw blond hair curled around her slender arms.  We were playing a game which she was making up, and clearly she was as delighted to be spending quality time alone with her uncle as I was with her.  Personal quality is a rare luxury when there are three other siblings competing for it.

"Nobody knows, except God,"  she added with that same impish smile, only slightly wider.  I was not surprised to hear that.  She was, after all, my older sister's kid; home-schooled and cocooned a Christian world to the extent that her mother could insulate her without becoming recluse.

"OK," I said, and took aim at one of the two billiard balls with my pool cue, my mind wondering how this is going to turn out.

Crack!  Balls scattered, nodding to physics.

"OK, so did I hit the good ball or the bad ball?" I eagerly asked.

"Let me check," said Suzy.  She tilted her face towards heaven, and started mouthing words without sound, as if having a private conversation with God about the balls.

"God said you hit the good one!" she exclaims.

I couldn't help but slip into the profundity of the situation for a moment.  Here she was, holding an imaginary conversation with God, which, in a way, is what so many adults do.  And the process; look up to heaven, mouth words, get a reply, was as though something which she had been trained in or had observed adults around her performing.  Yet at the same time, she handled it as if it was all make believe, as if she knew it was all an hoax, like the way you may joke about running off a cliff and holding still for a few seconds before gravity takes over like in cartoons.

She handled it the way I would had handled it if I was "talking to God" for show.  That was the most interesting part, because it was like she knew that talking to God did not work, or at least did not work that way, like a conversation.  She gets it.  I just hope she keeps it, but chances are not good under my sister's tutelage.

Of course, how you leave your childhood home is not necessarily how you live your entire life.  I still have hope.


  1. I think you might be onto something there. Some religions elevate belief or faith to a religious principle. I think those are primarily the Middle Eastern religions -- Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Zorastrianism. And I can see your analogy working beautifully with those religions -- "religion as make believe for adults".

    I wish I could run some tMRI scans on children playing make-believe and then on adults professing belief in their gods. I wonder if the same areas of the brain are active in both cases.

  2. That would be a great study!

    Speaking of which, I read about a study recently where people were asked to think of what other people probably thought regarding a topic, and then asked what they thought God probably thought about that topic. When they thought about what they thought God thought, it lit up a different part of the brain than when they were thinking about what other people thought. Their thoughts about God's thoughts lit up the part which lights up when you are about your own opinions, suggesting that people's concept of God pretty much matches their own particular outlooks.

  3. I have a relative who believes that God is very involved in preventing him from getting a speeding ticket--despite the fact that he intentionally exceeds the speed limit by 20 mph or more at all times. God is his personal radar detector. He's been going to church for 50+ years and most people consider him to be very intelligent (he's a successful engineer, in fact). How to explain this? I dunno. Selfishness mixed with superstition mixed with horrible teaching from his church mixed with bad influences from the American Christian culture, I think. Whatever it is, this kind of theology is appalling to me and I could make a strong case from the Bible that it's even more appalling to God.

    I would advise you to tell your sister to teach her daughter the truth about the matter, but I suspect she might reply with something like, "Oh, come on, she's young and it's cute."

  4. Ha, I have a friend who used to be a speed demon too. Despite often averaging 20-30 over the limit, and sometimes even doubling the limit on the highways, he rarely got tickets. Cops would pull him over just amazed at how fast he was going, and then let him off. Out of close to two decades of race-driving, I think he had about three speeding tickets.

    He has since changed his pace, but it took slamming into a car with a differential speed of ~ 60 MPH for him to wake up to the dangers involved. Months of physical therapy, even if just for his thumb, made an impression.

    Back in focus though, it is tough to explain. I think with as advanced as our brains are, they can piece together relationships which do not actually exist, making us prone to superstition or, in the case of your friend, thoughts of favorable divine intervention.

    As for your advice, it is hard to know for sure if it is warranted at this time. I distinctly remember playing in a similar way as a kid with my younger sister, although instead of God I had pretended to ask my mom for something when my sister and I both knew that mom wasn't home. Presumably, God warrants higher respect than fake parley, but it does help to be child-like to enter the Kingdom of God, right? (Matthew 11:25, Luke 10:21, Matthew 18:2-3, Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17) Make-believe is part of that. ;-)

    But more seriously, I'll be keeping watch. I don't want to make too hasty a judgement one way or another.