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Jón Gnarr's Column: Childhood faith

  • Jón Gnarr "Religious indoctrination is dangerous. Through it, children are taught so many things that are wrong." Photo/Stefán Karlsson

Comedian, writer and former mayor of Reykjavík JÓN GNARR, writes a weekly column for the weekend issue of Fréttablaðið, Iceland's most read newspaper and we publish an English version here at Iceland Magazine.

When people explain their religious beliefs they often say that they “keep their childhood faith”. Usually this is not explained any further. Childhood faith is, in general, thought to be good. In her speech at the opening ceremony of the General Assembly of the National Church in 2013, the then Minister of the Interior said: “People often say that they have their childhood faith. This faith, I believe, is more important than most other things.”

I found this a very interesting statement. Here, childhood faith is not some innocent spice of life, but an important philosophy or even a lifestyle. The minister did not explain the term and assumed that everybody had some common understanding of it, related to feelings and memories from childhood. Childhood faith, therefore, seems to be the Christian indoctrination you received as a child, different according to your circumstances and the schooling you received about the nature of the universe from the grown-up people around you.

Some of this is rather mystical and deals with divine worlds, while some is practical and deals with ethical issues such as truth, honesty and the difference between right and wrong or good and evil. And often fear plays a decisive role in the indoctrination: if you don’t conduct yourself well, God could get upset. Everything that is wrong is a sin and no matter how well we try to hide, God always sees us and could decide to punish us.

Health Lubricant
I have always found it fun to gabble and mess with my children. They all know many stories about this. When my youngest son was learning to speak, I conscientiously taught him the wrong names for his clothes. I told him that his jacket was called a blouse and his windbreaker was a coat. The scarf was not a scarf, but a veil. And it gave me unbelievable pleasure when he was going out to play and asked for his blouse and veil. It is so cold outside. Wouldn’t you rather take your coat?

My many months of perseverance came to nothing in an instant when his mother ruined this for me by correcting him. But it was fun while it lasted. I have particularly enjoyed teaching them ancient words for things and actions. Socks are hoses or stockings. Rice pudding is curds of beestings, and anything made in a blender is simply a lubricant.

This is all good fun, with a little bit of teaching of vocabulary, and this does not harm them in any way. None of them drink an ice cold energy lubricant and hupple into their hoses and wind blouses before they go out into the day. None of them are particularly upset because they don’t remember the core values of Landsbankinn, although I have many times encouraged them to do so.

Spiritual Candy
Christian studies are necessary because it is an ideology that is closely connected to our society and history. But religious indoctrination is dangerous. Through it, children are taught so many things that are wrong. There are generalizations about things that nobody knows. They are taught that there is an invisible being, half man and half alien. They don’t have a real choice whether to believe this or not, because that in itself can make the being upset.

If, however, you decide to accept this, certain mesmerism follows and the children are persuaded that thereby their whole lives will be more successful. This is seduction. And it becomes even more serious when the occupation and livelihood of a large number of grown-up people depend on how many children accept this.

Childhood faith is believing something you believed in as a child, but then realized when you grew up that it was rather unbelievable and irrational, but still deciding, despite more maturity and new information, to continue to believe in it. Perhaps because it makes you feel good. People half-believe in something they don’t quite know what is, and hold on to like an old memory. It’s like being a grown-up and still believing in Santa Claus and maintaining, without blinking, that he really exists.

But what makes you feel good isn’t always good. Most important is to have a choice, and that we allow our children to choose and train their own judgement, and learn to make their own decisions, because this ability will probably be more useful to them in life than the whim of an imaginary being. Childhood faith is not real wisdom, it is just nonsense. It is OK, but it is far from being important. No more than a windbreaker is a coat.

The truth shall make you free, said the man. So let’s seek truth, but just believe what we want.

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