There’s a friendly music festival just up the road from where I live this weekend, so I wasn’t surprised to see a group of teenage girls under a tent at a nearby state park this afternoon, holding a sign that read, “Free face painting”. I also took it for granted that I could trust them when a couple of the girls approached me and asked me if they could tell my 5 year-old daughter, who was over on the playground, a story. She was within my line of sight, and an easy 5 seconds away if she started to look uncomfortable. But, why would she feel uncomfortable? I figured that the girls just wanted to tell a story about a bunch of friendly barnyard animals, or something like that.
I hate to think about how naive I was in that assumption.
5 minutes later, the story was done, and my daughter walked over to where I had been sitting under a tree, watching her.
“Hi daddy,” she said.
“Did you have a good time with those girls?”
“What kind of story did they tell you?”
“It was a story about God?”
“What kind of story about God?”
“It was a story about how God is my real father.”
My daughter and I then had a short talk about stories. We talked about how there are all kinds of stories that talk about a lot of fanciful things, silly things, but that we don’t really believe what those stories say. “It’s like with Not The Hippopotamus,” I told her. “There aren’t really hippopotamuses who go to restaurants to drink juice, but we tell stories that pretend that they do, because it’s fun.”
My daughter understood what I was getting at, and she looked disappointed. I didn’t like to disappoint my daughter, but then, I didn’t really feel that I had a choice, after these strangers told her a story in which I wasn’t her real father. The thought came into my mind, though I didn’t speak it to my daughter, that if there really is a supernatural being that’s her real father, he ought to come over to our house sometime, because there are a lot of bills that need to be paid, and he needs to start pulling his weight.
After I was done talking with my daughter, I took a keener interest in what was going on near the playground. It turns out that there was a pretty slick operation going on. Some of the girls would stay at the facepainting tent, and proselytize the children they had lured there. At the same time, other girls were scouring the playground, looking for new prospects, and waiting for the chance to spread their religious message about God the “real father” to other small children. They were cultural hunters, using little kids as prey in order to fulfill their mission.
The worst part of it was the coordination. There was a man who looked to be about 50 years old, hanging around the tent, taking photographs of the children with the girls. The girls would report back to him every few minutes, and he would give them new directions.
I’ve heard a lot of Christians complaining about how they feel excluded from the public sphere. Today’s experience confirms to me that, in fact, the public sphere is swarming with Christians. Often, these Christians in the public sphere aren’t just practicing their religion for themselves. They’re out there, pushing their religion on other people who are just trying to use the public sphere in peace.
I’m all for freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. We adults simply have to learn to deal with people that we find to be annoying. It’s not against the law to be annoying, after all. There’s a line that’s crossed when it comes to dealing with other people’s children, however. Walking up to other people’s children and telling them that their fathers aren’t really their fathers isn’t freedom of religion. It’s fraud. It’s a violation of the trust that we have in creating public spaces where we’re supposed to bring our children to play.
Go ahead and believe whatever crazy stuff you want to believe about spirits with super powers. Just keep it away from my kids.