The Santa Dilemma

Over on From The Ashes Of Faith, Megan has just raised a subject that was a huge dilemma for me in the early years of parenting:

How do you feel about the whole Santa charade? Did you do it with kids in your family? Did you believe in Santa when you were little? How did you feel when you found out he wasn’t real?

To answer the last two questions first: I don’t remember believing in Father Christmas (the term we tend to use more in the UK, although they’re fairly interchangeable for us) at any time during my childhood. Maybe I believed in him at one point, but, if so, I was too young at the time to remember, and I don’t remember any point of ‘but he’s not real!’ revelation. So, if that did happen, I suppose I can’t have been too traumatised by it.

When it came to bringing up my own children, however, I had no idea what the right course of action was. (Which I suppose at least made a change from the more usual parenting experience of smugly knowing exactly what the right course of action was up until the point where I went through that part of parenting and realised that in actual fact things were vastly less simple than the pre-parenting version of me had assumed.) If I brought my children up to believe in Father Christmas, then I was deliberately perpetrating a lie and a fraud. If I didn’t bring them up to believe in Father Christmas, I was depriving them of a delightful and important part of childhood magic, basically becoming Scrooge and the Grinch rolled into one. What was I to do?

The compromise I opted for: I wouldn’t straight-out tell my children Father Christmas wasn’t real, and I wouldn’t say anything revelatory when we saw Father Christmases at children’s parties or in the local garden centre prior to Christmas. But I also wouldn’t do anything specific to perpetrate the myth – no footprints on the fireplace or mince pies set out on Christmas Eve and removed overnight in our household – and, when either of my children did ask straight out about Father Christmas, I’d tell them the truth.

As to the details of what I’d tell them… well, this takes us to Megan’s other main question, which was whether I think it’s fair to compare Santa to Jesus. As regular readers of my blog will know, I believe that Jesus was originally a real person (a Jewish rabbi who was crucified) but that, for reasons too long to go into here, an entire enormous mythology was then woven around him that had very little to do with the actual person. If you want to debate that issue, please go pick one of my many threads on the subject in which to do so; I bring it up here because, in answer to Megan’s question, I think it’s completely fair to compare Santa to Jesus, in that both of them started as ordinary humans before a whole mythology was woven around them.

So, I decided that, when the time came, I’d tell my children that the bits about flying reindeer and visiting all the children in the world with presents were made up, but the story was based on a real person who was kind and good and gave people things and inspired parents to do the same with their children, and people then made the other stuff up to make it more fun. This is probably somewhat stretching the details of how the legend developed, but was reasonably true and felt a lot better than the prospect of effectively telling my children that the grown-ups had lied to them.

Looking back, I would say that – unlike almost everything else I’ve ever planned in parenting – this actually worked well.

I can’t remember how old Jamie was when he asked me whether Father Christmas was real, though I remember it was while I was getting the children ready for bed one night; I told him to come into the bathroom so I could tell him (getting some teeth-brushing done was probably also on my agenda there, but I wanted to get him out of earshot of Katie, as she hadn’t yet asked) and gave him the above spiel, as well as asking him not to tell children who didn’t yet know as it might upset them. Jamie nodded in acceptance and that was that.

I do remember when Katie asked, due to some other stuff going on at the time that enables me to pinpoint it around (probably shortly after) her eight birthday. I was driving her home from school and she was chattering away, mentioning a girl in her class who was scared of Father Christmas. As my heart sank, the way it always did when I was faced with the uneasy business of not knowing whether to speak up or not, she mused “You know, I don’t even know if Father Christmas is real. Maybe he’s just some guy named Jake.” I have no idea to this day where she got ‘Jake’ from, but I still remember mentally cheering that, within minutes, I would be done with the whole Father Christmas dilemma.

I got us both home so that I could tell her face-to-face just in case she did get upset, and asked her whether she wanted to know the answer to her question. This involved reminding her of the subject, since she’d moved onto somewhere completely different in her thoughts in the ten minutes it took us to drive home, but she decided that, yes, she did want to know.

“Well, then,” I started, “the answer is that the bit about someone flying around in a sleigh with reindeer is a myth, but…”

“I knew it! I knew it!” Katie crowed.

“…but the stories are based on…”

“He’s not real! Throw him out the window!” Katie, apparently delighted by this news, swung an arm in an expansive casting-forth gesture.

“…based on a man who was…”

Throw him out the window, one-two-three! Throw him out the window, one-two-three!” Katie had reached the point of putting together a mini song-and-dance act on the theme. “Throw him out the window, one-two-three! Da-da, da-da-da-da!”

I gave up. At least she wasn’t traumatised by the news. I settled for explaining to her that she couldn’t tell other children who didn’t know yet (actually, I can’t even remember if I did remember to tell her that; I hope she didn’t ruin any other family’s Christmas magic in her enthusiasm) and, no, she was definitely not allowed to throw Father Christmas out the window and could she please be slightly less disturbing about it.

So, that’s how the whole thing went down in our household. I look forward to seeing what experiences Megan’s commenters had, though they probably at least did not involve impromptu chants about Santa defenestration.

Two For Joy

This post was initially inspired by a question asked in an open chat comment thread (on the Ask A Manager blog, but it’s in the weekend open thread and hence nothing to do with the blog topic). Briefly: the poster has two children aged 5 and 2, she’s struggling with the decision of whether to have a third child, and she asked working parents on the site for their experiences with the same decision. As it happens, this is a situation that I also experienced many years back, and so I Have Thoughts on the subject. I started writing a comment, but it was getting so long and rambly that I decided I might as well make it a blog post instead.

(Warning: I’m discussing the issue of decisions about childbearing from the very privileged position of having been able to have the children I wanted and not have ones I didn’t want, and I know that there are very many people out there for whom either or both of those isn’t the case. I’ve been extremely lucky, and I know it, and don’t mean to make it sound as though I’m oblivious to my privilege here.)

When I thought about having children, I always planned that I would stop at two. Well, unless I ended up having a child as a single parent, in which case I planned to stop at one, as I wanted to avoid a children-outnumber-parents situation, but the ideal for me was always to get married and have two children. Besides, I grew up in a two-child family, so that felt normal and and right to me (1). When I met my husband-to-be he wanted three, but I decided that I’d be OK with considering a third if he wanted that, and he decided he’d be OK with stopping at two if I wanted that, and we agreed that if we made it as far as the married-with-two stage we’d revisit the issue at that point and see where we were then.

In fact, by the time we made it to the married-with-one-and-a-second-on-the-way stage it was very clear to both of us that we were going to stop at two. My husband had taken a voluntary redundancy option at work some years earlier and stayed off work to be a stay-at-home parent while the children were small, and his window of opportunity for getting back into his field was starting to narrow; he could feasibly stay at home through the upcoming infancy/toddlerhood, but that was going to be his limit (and neither of us was keen on having to find day care for a baby). Plus, stay-at-home parenthood had been harder than he’d anticipated, and he was now quite clear that two was enough for him. As for me, thrilled about my pregnancy but also constantly nauseated and facing the looming prospect of going back to night feeds, I was thoroughly on board with the idea that I was going through all this precisely one more time and then never again. And my opinion remained quite clear on that point once my daughter was born. We were now a two-child family, and that was great.

So I was a bit stymied when, a few years down the line, broodiness crept up on me and walloped me over the head.

Now, if my circumstances had been different, I might very well have decided to indulge that wish and have a third child, and I expect that, had I gone that route, I’d have gained much happiness from it and this post would be about how it all worked out for me. However, one significant difference between the OP’s situation and mine is that I knew perfectly well that this option was not on the table. I knew my husband was not going to be OK with having a third child, and that was that. I didn’t even raise the issue; the mere suggestion would have sent him into a tailspin, and it didn’t seem worth it when I knew perfectly well what the answer would be. So for me, all along, this attack of broodiness was something I just had to deal with and get over.

And that was doable. Because, as much as I might have enjoyed indulging myself on this one, there were a few things I knew all along:

I would be OK without a third child.

I knew that, in the long term, I would be all right with not having a third child in a way that I wouldn’t have been all right without getting to have the first two. Of course, if I’d faced the situation so many people face of not being able to have even those two children then I’d have had to get on with my life even so, but it would always have been a loss. Having a third child felt optional to me.

This is probably a weird metaphor, but I always thought of it in terms of a table. Deciding to go from one child to two had, for me, been like deciding whether to put the last leg on the table you’re putting together; it wasn’t really even a decision, but a no-brainer. Of course you put all the legs on a table. If you don’t, something is missing in a way that fundamentally damages the integrity of the table. (2) Deciding whether to go from two children to three was like deciding whether to put a vase on top of the table after it had been constructed. It would add something extra, something you might love, but equally well you might decide that it worked better not to put a vase on top of this particular table. Either decision would be OK. Either way, I’d have the table I wanted.

It wasn’t really about having three children rather than two; it was about the prospect of having to move on.

I realised that most of what I was feeling was about dealing with the thought of that part of my life – pregnancy, childbirth, babies – being over for good. Since this life stage was not only something that had been fairly all-encompassing over much of the past few years but also something I’d eagerly looked forward to for as long as I could remember, the realisation that it was all finally a dwindling glimpse in the rearview mirror was quite a major one to come to terms with. And to some extent, it was also about the inevitable retrospective wish to have done some things differently with my existing two.

You don’t really want a new baby, I thought to myself. You want the babies you had back again for a do-over. That wasn’t all of it, but there was a lot of truth to it.

Following on from that understanding, of course, was the realisation that…

…having another baby wouldn’t solve the broodiness problem. Well, temporarily it would, but a problem postponed isn’t really a problem solved. Since so much of this was about saying goodbye to the pregnant/new motherhood part of my life, I found it (and still find it) a pretty reasonable assumption that having another baby would just leave me feeling the same way a few years down the line. However many children I had, eventually I’d still have to move on and accept that that part of my life was over.


None of this self-knowledge, of course, made the reproduction cravings magically vanish; I just had to keep reminding myself of all of the above and ride it out like a vastly higher-stakes version of chocolate cravings. The good news is, however, that that actually worked. Eventually, gradually, they faded.

Ten years later, I can happily say that I wouldn’t want another baby now if you paid me, and I’m glad, now, that I didn’t have one at the time. Life with the children I do have has been a lot more difficult and exhausting than I’d originally bargained for, due in large part to the clashes between their needs (they’re both autistic with features of ADHD) and a sometimes problematic school system. It was absolutely worth it, but I’m still glad I didn’t add a third child into the mix.

I did realise, a few years ago, that I like the idea of providing a permanent foster home for an older child. For practical reasons this will unfortunately probably never be possible, but, if it is, then I’ll be a mother of three without ever having to deal with babies again, which will be a lovely outcome. If not… I’ll still be happy with two.

So, at the end of all this, do I have any advice for people in the situation of that commenter? Think about what you actually want. Be realistic about your reasons for considering another. Think about what your partner actually wants. And good luck with whatever you do.



(1) As an interesting side note, my sister had the opposite response to the same family background; she’s written that ‘growing up in a quiet, bookish two-child family’ left her with a firm preference for ‘the slightly anarchic dynamic of three’. I love the fact that we reacted in opposite ways to the same background. People are cool. And by the way, in case you’re wondering, she did get her wish.

(2) The other thing that works for me about that metaphor is the fact that different tables have different numbers of legs anyway. A three-legged table works fine as a table; it isn’t at all the same as a four-legged table with a missing leg. In the same sort of way, my personal feelings about the size of family I wanted had no bearing whatsoever on what size family someone else should have; there are people who do only want one child, or none, or three or four, and those are the ‘tables’ that work for them.

Book reviews: children’s/YA series

This is a post I was initially inspired to make by World Book Day, an international day of celebration of books/reading founded by UNESCO for the purpose of encouraging children to love books. Just before the day, I realised I could mark it on my blog; why not write reviews of series that my 13-year-old daughter and I have loved sharing? I didn’t get the post finished in time for the day itself, but I wanted to go ahead with writing it anyway. So, here are reviews of two multi-series that we’ve both loved… and that also carry some great messages for children.

Rick Riordan: the Percy Jackson world

Currently stands at: three sequential five-book series, two spin-off series of three books each dealing with different pantheons, one crossover series of novellas, and so many spin-off novels and novellas I’ve completely lost count.

This infamous multiseries starts with a simple premise: What if all of Greek mythology were actually true… including the part about gods having affairs with humans and conceiving demigod children? What would life be like for those children, growing up with powers and quests and monsters to fight? Riordan’s explorations of this are the kind of wonderful, readable books that combine great plots, humour, (just skim through the chapter titles in a Percy Jackson or Magnus Chase book to see what you’re in for) and warmth and poignancy. They look at what it’s like to grow up thinking of yourself as a loser and then find out you’re anything but, and at what heroism and bravery mean. All with superpowers and snark.

I have a caveat here; The first five-book series is not only (as you would probably expect) not quite as well written as the later books, it’s also for the most part pretty much structured as ‘White male hero solves everything and repeatedly saves the day, white female love interest gets to be Hermione Granger so that somebody can provide all the useful info, most other people get minor supporting roles’. I still loved the series, but be aware of that problem. (Ana Mardoll’s post on The Curse Of The Smart Girl is well worth a read.)

(Oh, and I just looked back at the beginning; there’s an ablist term on about the second page. Forgot that one.)

However… I don’t know whether Riordan realised this for himself or whether someone else pointed it out to him and he listened, but, either way, it’s something he improves on enormously in subsequent series. In the next five-book story arc, he brings in five new protagonists, two of whom are girls and four of whom are from ethnic minorities on their human side (Hispanic, Native American, Black and Chinese). Annabeth (the Hermione Granger character from the first book) gets a much bigger role as well. Percy’s still one of the protagonists, but his role has been scaled back a lot; in fact, he’s not in the first book at all (other than being the ‘Lost Hero’ of the title), and one of the themes from the later books in the series is that he has to learn to step back and let other people do things sometimes. Oh, and there’s a character from the first series who turns out to be gay and who has a happy relationship on the horizon by the time the series ends, with more gay/bi characters in the next series (including the third series’ protagonist). On top of that, we also get the Kane Chronicles in which the co-protagonists are a biracial brother and sister, and the Magnus Chase books in which we get a Moslem Valkyrie, a biracial einherji, a genderfluid einherji, and a disabled elf (who’s deaf and has had to deal with his family’s ablism). So, on top of all the other great things about these books, they’ve also ended up showing good diversity.


Tui Sutherland: Wings of Fire series

Currently stands at: two complete sequential five-book series, four out of five published books in a third series, a prequel, a spin-off novel, and four novellas looking at the backstories of some of the minor characters.

The ‘Wings of Fire’ series is set in a fantasy world where the characters are dragons. (Humans exist; the dragons call them ‘scavengers’ and think of them pretty much the way we think of mice, although they do come into the plotline in some key ways. The spin-off novel I mentioned above tells the parallel stories of the humans encountered during the first series, and the most recent book has linked up the two.) There is some adorable worldbuilding, with multiple different dragon tribes who have different abilities. In some places this leads to a trope known as Fantastic Racism (‘fantastic’, for those who don’t know the trope, referring here to the fantasy setting rather than being a compliment); overall, the message is about overcoming differences and working together.

Each of the main books tells the story through the eyes of a different character (with the prologue and epilogue in each case being from the viewpoint of yet other characters, used to flesh out the plot further), and thus each book has an individual character development arc as well as contributing to the overall plot arc. This makes it a great series on multiple levels; not only hugely readable with gripping plots, but with some good character development and great messages as well. It also means we get multiple female as well as male protagonists; in fact, there’s a slight preponderance of female protagonists overall. There’s also one protagonist in a gay relationship and we see a couple of same-gender crushes, all treated as completely normal by the characters. And, again, we get bucketloads of humour and snark and warmth.

I have one reservation to mention. In both of the last two books, we’ve seen a relationship (a romance in one, a friendship in the other) in which the protagonist is regularly angry and quite verbally aggressive towards the other person, who reacts by laughing it off and not being bothered by it. In the second case in particular, the other person sticks around for quite a lot of this, and the tactic eventually works; the protagonist softens. That’s… kind of problematic, given how often emotional abuse in relationships can start out like this, and I’d rather this kind of dynamic wasn’t painted as NBD. I did have a chat with my daughter about it and she does recognise that it’s not a good idea to put up with this kind of behaviour in practice, or to feel obliged to manage it. So, if you have or know children who are reading this series, it’s worth being aware of.

Other than the reservations I’ve raised, both these multiseries are majorly awesome. If you know tweens or teens with a possible interest in fantasy, these make perfect presents; and if you like YA fantasy yourself, absolutely give these a go.

A Very Poetic Response To Time Limits

It’s a frequent problem for today’s adolescents: If you’re nearing the limit of the time your parents have put on your electronic device and you want to persuade them to give you more, what’s the best way to go about it? Cajole? Beg? Make a reasoned argument? Throw a tantrum?

Well, if you’re my daughter, you use the medium of verse.

Three minutes before her phone time was up, a few nights ago, I was texted this stanza:

Time is running slowly down,

The hourglass fallen, never found,

I cry for help, yet no-one hears,

‘No time!’ I say, but to deaf ears.


Pretty good for a completely impromptu poem, isn’t it? And, yes, I did give her more time. I’m soft-hearted anyway, but, really, who could resist that foray into poetry?


How to make a stone so heavy that you can’t lift it

Most people will recognise the above reference. It’s to the infamous Omnipotence Paradox; can God (or other allegedly omnipotent being, if you prefer; when my father introduced me to it as a child, it was by way of Mr Impossible from the Mr Men books) make a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it? Various answers have been put forward to this over the years; one of them, several years ago, came from my daughter.

We were at dinner. I can’t remember at all how old my daughter was, except that it was some years back and she’s now twelve. Maybe seven? Maybe not. I forget how this came up, but my husband decided to ask the children the version of the paradox that comes up in Babylon 5: can God make a puzzle so difficult that he can’t solve it? (The character in the show includes that it’s ‘us’; humans and, given the show’s context, assumedly intelligent aliens as well.)

“Well,” Katie suggested, “he could make the puzzle so that it changes him so that then he can’t solve it.”

My husband and I exchanged the sort of look you exchange when your primary-school-aged child has just solved a centuries-old philosophical puzzle. (On the unlikely off-chance that you have not personally had occasion to encounter that look, it’s basically “Did that just happen?”) He asked her the more traditional version of the puzzle, and, of course, she figured out how her answer would fit; God designs a rock that has the property of causing him to lose the ability to lift the rock. I don’t want to brag, but my daughter is pretty darned smart.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Final sections and final thoughts

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

Puffing and panting on, finishing line in sight…

The cadets’ story is now finished. The final sections in the book are as follows:

  • Instructions for Using the Website. The instructions are one short paragraph telling readers to go to the website and watch the videos/do the activity sheets there. We didn’t.
  • A Challenge from J. Warner Wallace. The challenge being to get out there and evangelise.
  • Sample Fill-in Sheets. Worksheets for each chapter. They are, quite frankly, head-bangingly boring and consist of regurgitating back points from the story in each chapter, either by answering questions or filling in the blanks in sentences. If I was a child whose interest in Christianity had been piqued by the book (which might well have been my reaction to this book as a child), you can bet that this would have put me straight off it again. It ends with an advertisment for the original book, ‘Cold Case Christianity’, aimed at the parents.
  • Certificate of Promotion. A fancy certificate for children to cut out and keep (if they’re using the book version; families using the Kindle version can get the same certificate from the website) where parents can fill in their child’s name to state that they have successfully completed the Cold-Case Christianity Cadet Academy. (I thought for a moment this was meant to be a picture of one of the cadets’ certificates, and thought ‘Huh, Jeffries is having an unusual moment of honesty about the course.’)

And that’s all I got to say about most of that, but Katie and I both had some thoughts on the Challenge section.

This is the section where Wallace is trying to persuade all his new converts to get actively into the evangelism business. You believe in Jesus now! You’re part of an important team! You need to tell other people about this! In fact, you should love the idea of telling other people about this, because it’s such awesome news! Tell your friends, tell your church group, tell your family, use the next holiday get-together as a chance to tell everyone there all about your cadet academy training just in case they don’t already believe in Jesus!

“And then they’ll say that makes no sense,” Katie observed.

I feel sorry for any shy readers of this book; these expectations sound like torture for them. Not to mention the family members who’ll be stuck with sitting through excited and/or embarrassed evangelism, not wanting to hurt a child’s feelings. Curious, I asked Katie what she’d say if a friend tried to do this with her.

“I’d probably say to them ‘Well, personally I believe that it’s not really all that true. But if you want to believe in it, then, sure, that’s kind of what my religion’s about. Just as long as it doesn’t hurt or upset anyone, I’m OK with it.”

I’m proud of her; what a tactful way of dealing with a potentially awkward situation.

Meanwhile, what struck me most about this section was Wallace’s sheer enthusiasm for his religion. (To the point where I honestly don’t think it’s occurred to him that his expectations are likely to set up some seriously awkward and unpleasant family conversations. He genuinely thinks he’s doing people a favour by not only telling them all about Jesus but pushing others into doing so; after all, he’s happy with these beliefs, why wouldn’t everyone else be?) ‘I was excited about what I discovered and about what God had done for me,’ he writes. ‘I was so happy to finally know the truth’.

This struck me because it was so very different from the reaction I’ve always had to the basic tenets of fundamentalist Christianity. I mean, you’re talking about a religion that teaches that non-Christians are going to burn eternally in hell. That the one way out of burning in hell is a route that, in the nature of things, has been unavailable for most people throughout history simply because of the time and/or place of their birth. That good people are going to be abandoned by God to an eternity of torture. And I can never get my head round the mentality that hears about this and feels anything other than horrified at the thought.

To be fair, Wallace seems to be one of the people who thinks of hell as separation from God, so I suppose he’s not actually reading all this and picturing people being tortured. Still, to me it’s a strange and alien way of thinking.


Anyway… we finished that section, zipped through the others, and that was it… the end of the book! Almost fourteen months after first starting it, we had made it through!

I asked Katie for her final thoughts on the book.

“Well, for a start I thought it was a very biased opinion,” she told me. (To be fair to Wallace, it was never intended to be anything else.) “And also, it overlooked major plot points and also told… I wouldn’t call them lies because they weren’t intentional, but there were some really huge flaws in it. There were facts missing and facts that weren’t correct and stuff, and there were huge, huge, huge over-exaggerations. Stuff like that.” She didn’t feel it had changed her mind about anything, except possibly Wallace’s sanity level.

I would say that Wallace missed the mark with a member of his target audience there, but, during the time I spent reading this book, it eventually dawned on me that Katie was never his target audience. I’d started out assuming this book was aimed at non-Christian children and written with the aim of converting them. Naive of me; of course, it’s actually written for Christian children with Christian parents who want their children to stay Christian and want a resource for strengthening their faith. (I figured this out for myself, but a quick look on Wallace’s blog has confirmed it.) As far as I know, Katie and I are the only atheist parent-and-child team to have read and reviewed it; I’m pleased to have broken new ground there.

I chose this for my first review book on here mainly because I liked the idea of doing a review together with my daughter, and I’m so pleased I did, as it’s been great fun; but I also liked the idea that she would get the chance to read about a completely different belief, and that I would get the chance to talk to her about my reasons for not holding that belief. As far as religion is concerned (as far as quite a few things are concerned, in fact), my main priority for my children is that they learn to think for themselves. That’s far more important to me than having them grow up with the same beliefs about religion as I have.

This, of course, is easier said than done, so I don’t want to pat myself on the back and assume I’m getting it perfectly right; that’s just a one-way route to getting it wrong. But I’ll leave Katie with the last word on this one, from her comments during the final part of the review and what she thought about Wallace’s arguments. “I listened to you and to what you said,” she told me, “because what you said held up much better.”


And that, folks, finally is it; we have finished the review of Cold Case Christianity For Kids. My first book review on here is done. I hope you join me for many more, and for that matter I hope I manage many more. Do please come back for upcoming attractions. In the meantime (putting on Richard Ayoade voice) thank you for reading, if indeed you still are.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Postscript

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

We’re nearly at the end. I was planning to collect all the final sections together and blast through them in one post, but Katie did have quite a few thoughts on these and so I might take two posts to cover them properly. I still want to blast through, though; I have loved doing this, but I have two shiny exciting new projects waiting for me and I am ready to put this one to bed and move on. Let’s get cracking.

Postscript: Belief THAT or Belief IN?

We’re still in the cadet academy frame story (don’t worry, this really is the last cadet academy scene; hang on in there). Everyone except Jason, Jeffries, and Insert Character has left the room. Jason’s hung back because he has a question. (Insert Character has apparently hung back for reasons of plot necessity.)

Jason has now, apparently, concluded that he believes the Bible is telling him the truth about Jesus. (Oh, Jason, my skeptic, I had such hopes of you. It’s such a shame you didn’t get to hear a different viewpoint.) Anyway, the question he has is whether this conclusion means he’s a Christian?

In response, Jeffries tells him that Jesus said there’s a difference between belief that and belief in. No, Jeffries, I believe you’ll find that Jesus is not, in fact, quoted anywhere as saying that. It’s a perfectly reasonable statement, but that doesn’t mean you can just attribute it to Jesus. Jeffries reads out John 3:16, which, as many of you will know, is the verse about anyone who believes in Jesus getting eternal life.

“I guess that means I’m never going to believe in Jesus,” Katie told me. “Because… eternal life? That sounds good on paper, but come on! It would get really boring! Just going on and on, not able to die… I just want some peace!”

Probably not the effect that the author of gJohn was going for, but a very valid point.

“Plus,” Katie continued, “being put into heaven is kind of a way to be reborn – reborn as a perfect form in heaven – and my interpretation of reborn is, as you know, terrifying.”

That was a twist on things that I hadn’t expected. What Katie was referring to was an idea she’d come up with in her drawings a little while ago; the Reborn, a group of zombies. I pointed out that, despite Christianity’s flaws, it was fair to say that it does not actually teach that going to heaven involves becoming a zombie.

“I know, but it still seems awful,” Katie told me. “I hate the prospect of being reborn. I just hate it.”

Although Katie, I found out in the ensuing discussion, apparently thinks that hell involves becoming a zombie. “The thing with my religion,” she told me, “is it doesn’t matter what you believe and it doesn’t matter what you think, as long as you’re nice to other people and accept them. But, if not, then you get condemned to the other life, the land of the Reborn. And there isn’t a way out, you just become a bloodthirsty monster.” Due to the lateness of the hour at this point and my desire to get on and get finished with the book, I did not, I regret to say, explore in greater detail how this fits in with Potatoisum. Must ask her about this another time.

Anyway… back in the book, Jeffries tells Jason that if you read what the Bible says about Jesus, you’ll end up believing that Jesus worked miracles, rose from the dead, etc. (except, of course, for all those of us who don’t, who are conveniently ignored at this point), but belief in is a different matter. To have belief in, Jeffries tells us, you need to see what the Bible says about you. He doesn’t back this up with any actual examples of what he thinks the Bible says about you, but then, when I had a look at Wallace’s blog to find out more, it seems that what he had in mind was the we-are-all-terrible-sinners lectures from Paul and similar rants from Jesus, so I actually think he made a good call not including those in a children’s book.

The points Wallace/Jeffries wants to make here are:

  • You’re not perfect.
  • God is perfect. Or, at least, if God is all-powerful and create everything from nothing, then God ‘could be’ perfect, which apparently counts as the same thing in Wallace/Jeffries’ chain of logic. (I did at this point flash back to Katie’s rather more interesting logical deduction in Chapter One, where she hypothesised that a god might potentially be really good at creating universes but not so good at, say, sports.)
  • We can’t live in eternity with a perfect god when we’re not perfect, because our imperfection would spoil his perfection.
  • Our mistakes, ‘whether large or small’, must be punished.

“Except,” Katie objected, “if God really was so perfect, he would accept everyone for what they are instead of saying ‘I’m sorry, you’re not perfect, you don’t get to be with me, you’re contaminating me, eugh, gross’. I can imagine that in one of those teenage girl voices,” she added.

Right on, kiddo. Nicely put.

“Also,” Katie continued, warming to her theme, “you have to be punished for your every mistake. I mean, if you deliberately choose to do something wrong, then fair enough, but your mistakes? If you accidentally stumble and fall into someone, then you have to be punished? I mean, come on, he’s a huge jerk! I realise I’m condemning myself to hell by saying all this, but, hey, whatever, I don’t care. God, I’ve decided you’re a huge jerk and I hate you and I hate Jesus too.”

Score one for Wallace’s evangelical efforts, folks! Sounds like they helped Katie make her mind up, anyway!

Anyway, back to Jason, who’s looking understandably worried at what Jeffries is telling him. Fear not, Jason! Despite the Christian God’s apparent utter inability to plan a decent afterlife for His own creations, there is a solution! God came to humans as Jesus, lived ‘the perfect life’, and ‘willingly accepted the punishment we deserve’. This means that, if we ‘accept what Jesus did for us on the cross’, God will now forgive us, despite being apparently either unwilling or unable (it’s not clear which) to do so without his version of self-harm being involved (which, among other things, makes me wonder what exactly was supposed to have happened after death to the souls of all the people who lived and died in the thousands of years before Jesus’s birth). We aren’t told how any of this is supposed to solve the problem of God being unable to tolerate imperfect people in his presence for eternity, but it’s kind of vaguely handwavingly implied that this is somehow solved, so… don’t think about it too hard, I guess.

Jason says he thinks he gets it, which is more than I do. Oh, well, never mind the problems with the ethics or logic of this theology; let’s get this done. I hoped Wallace wasn’t going to end with some horribly awkward scene of Jeffries leading Jason through reciting the Sinner’s Prayer, and this hope at least was granted; Jeffries tells Jason that this is a decision everyone has to make on their own and that he should think about it and tell God what he’s decided. So that bit, at least, I liked a lot better than the scenes I’ve seen in Christian books where impassioned missionaries lead a tearful new target through praying and converting on the spot. Jeffries tells Jason and Insert Character that he expects to see both of them at the police station sometimes (I assume he meant for visits rather than because they’ve been arrested), and the story ends with Insert Character thinking ‘deeply’ about what they learned from Jeffries.

Still not quite it, as there are a few final sections; these should be quick to deal with, so my next post really should be the final one. Nearly there!

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Chapter Eight, Part 3

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

So, as expected, Lacey was the skateboard owner, and, as not expected but should have been, Jeffries pretty much hands this one to the cadets rather than helping them work it out themselves. I forgot to update my prediction accuracy count, but this, of course, brings it to three accurate out of five; which, alas, is where it stayed, as my daughter had an unusually long episode of rationality while reading this and thus did not at any point randomly utter any of the words ‘mushrooms’, ‘potatoes’, ‘cheese’ ‘jalapeños’, or ‘chicken’. You win some, you lose some.

Time to wrap this up:

We get a bit more information from Lacey, including the fact that she kept the board in the shed. What the hell is the security at this school like? A shed on school grounds containing potentially dangerous tools should be locked. Also, of course, it’s supposed to be filthy in there; surely her parents would have noticed her continually turning up at home with smudges on her face or cobwebs in her hair? She put the sticker over her initials when she was about to graduate as she didn’t want to risk her parents seeing her initials on a skateboard, although since she seems to have just left the board in the shed permanently at this point it’s not clear why she thought it would be an issue. Oh, and she did eventually confess all to her parents.

I went back after reading this and checked the earlier parts of the book, and Wallace has completely borked his own continuity.

  • The conclusion drawn by the cadets in Chapter 2 is that the skateboard is at least nine years old (appearance, plus sticker with the school’s previous name on it), which is why Daniel asked Lacey about it in the first place (she’s ten years older than him).
  • In Chapter 4, Lacey tells us that Lincoln Singleton, the board’s previous owner, moved away five years ago.
  • When the cadets go to see Mr Warren, the school custodian in Chapter 5, we learn that he’s worked there for three years. We also get the following history from him:

“[…]A boy named Lincoln gave it [the skateboard] to Mr. Templeton, the first custodian of the school. When he retired, he told the temporary custodian, Mr. Jenkins, about it, and Mr. Jenkins told me. I didn’t really want to throw it away, and one day a nice, polite girl asked if she could have it, so I gave it to her. Then sometime later it appeared in the shed again—and there it stayed, until you guys found it.”


  • After all that business about ‘nine years ago’, it turns out Lacey would have to have owned the board in the last three years.
  • Except that, at the beginning of Chapter 4, it’s stated that Lacey attended that school ‘many years ago’. So, for some reason, she was hanging around the school and keeping the board there despite having left the school long since and (most likely) being clearly out of its age range.
  • Mr Warren, despite being familiar enough with the skateboard to remember in detail what Mr Jenkins said about its history, somehow didn’t notice that it was being left in the shed every night during the time Lacey owned it. (Or, more worryingly, that a student was regularly entering the school shed, and also regularly carrying something out of the school shed.)
  • If Lacey knew that Lincoln had put it there, why did she wait for over two years before asking Mr Warren for it? Alternatively, if she didn’t know at the time but found out since then… how? Did she see it there? What is it with this school letting children poke around in a shed full of rusty tools? Why was she even there when, according to the timeline, she should already have left the school?

Sigh. Absolutely none of this plot makes any sense. I much prefer ridana’s version.

On the plus side, we’re nearly at the end of the chapter:

Jeffries is delighted that the cadets finally see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Well, that’s more than I do.

“Just like there was enough evidence in this mystery to figure out who owned the skateboard, there’s also enough evidence to figure out the truth about Jesus.”

An apt comparison; in both cases, Wallace/Jeffries has been giving the cadets the evidence he thinks appropriate, and holding back on evidence when he thinks it appropriate. But I still don’t see how there was enough evidence to figure out who owned the skateboard. I mean, Daniel didn’t ask Lacey about the skateboard because there were clues pointing to her; he asked her about the skateboard because she happened to be the one person he knew who’d been at that school at what the cadets thought was around the time the skateboard had been left there but which I’ve just worked out wasn’t the time the skateboard had been left there. And we still don’t know how Jeffries figured out who owned the skateboard.

Aarrrgghhhh. Since I know perfectly well that the answer to all of the above is ‘Wallace didn’t care about his plot beyond the point where it provided a handy vehicle to pass on his views to children’ I will shut up about it and get on with wrapping this up.

Jeffries gives the cadets one last summary of his reasons for believing the Jesus-story is true, complete with lists on the whiteboards that are basically just going over the same stuff that’s been done so I won’t bother repeating them here. Hannah exclaims “Wow, I guess we really did learn a lot about evidence!” (sigh). And Jeffries calls the cadets up to receive their certificates. This last is illustrated by a line drawing of Jeffries and a cadet holding a certificate with a ‘Congratulations Cadets’ sign in the background. Unfortunately the quality of the drawing is… pretty much on the level of the quality of the plot, which meant my daughter found it severely freaky.

“Don’t you mean ‘Congratulations, demons??” she broke in, indicating the figures in the pictures. “The eyes are different sizes! That face is going to haunt my nightmares! It’s like so simple, but so complicated. That does not work! Aaaaaaah!”

Personally, I thought it was one more piece of evidence that the rest of the class was in fact populated only by cardboard cutouts.

And that’s the end of this chapter, but not quite the end of the book yet; we still have some final bits. I hope to wrap them up in one further post, but we’ll see how it goes.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Chapter Eight, Part 2

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

I assumed a few things about this book as I went along, and one of them was that the final-chapter Solving Of The Skateboard Mystery would be done by actual detective work from the cadets. Sure, I wasn’t expecting Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, and I also figured Jeffries would probably have to guide them with some leading questions… but I did expect that resolution would come in some kind of ultimate burst of discovering and/or connecting clues to give the cadets the answer. Not only was this the one bit of any actual detective work that the cadets got to do, but there was still the matter of the witness statement that Jeffries – despite promptly ignoring it for the next fortnight – did stress the cadets should be closely analysing.

Well… here’s how it actually went down.

Jeffries tells the cadets that they’re going to ‘wrap up the mystery of the skateboard’. He opens the door. Ta-daaaa! Lacey walks in! Jeffries tells them ‘”As it turns out, Lacey is the key to solving our mystery.”‘ Insert Character suddenly realises that Daniel’s – and therefore Lacey’s – surname is Bolan, making Lacey’s initials LB, the initials they found on the skateboard. Insert Character yells out ‘”You owned the skateboard!”‘ Lacey agrees. Ta-da. Mystery solved.

So… I guess technically I was not completely wrong. After all, the Insert Character does have one ‘Aha, so that is what that clue means’ moment. But:

a) this happens only once Jeffries has literally put the answer slap bang in front of them, and

b) this happens only because Insert Character is friends with Daniel and thus knows the family’s surname.

So, none of the other cadets – you remember them, even though Wallace doesn’t? The children from other schools who are supposedly also in this class even though none of them ever, ever gets named or says anything? – had a look-in here. And it would have been so easy for Jeffries to do that differently; all he had to do was to start Lacey’s witness statement off with a ‘State your full name for the record’. Apart from anything else, surely getting the witness’s full details is normal practice for a witness statement?

But, nope. Didn’t happen.

Daniel wants to know why Lacey didn’t say anything earlier. I’d assumed that this was because she didn’t want her illicit skateboard-riding to get back to her mother. But… nope. Instead, we get this:

“Because Detective Jeffries told me not to,” she explains. “Once he solved it, he asked me to play along and let you guys try to figure it out on your own.[…]”

Where. To. Start.

1. I can quite understand that Jeffries would want the solving of this case to take a bit more effort than Daniel happening to examine the board at home and Lacey walking in and saying “Hey, that’s my old skateboard!”. However, this goes further; Lacey’s actually kept quiet about her involvement when explicitly asked if she knows anything about the board, to the point of downright deceptiveness. Her response when Daniel asked her about it was “I’ve seen it before… At least, I think I have.” The first statement was technically true, but the second one wasn’t; she knew perfectly well that she’d seen it, because she’d owned it.

Which means that the one bit of detective work the cadets got to do during this entire fake cadet class – solving the mystery – has been mucked up for them by Jeffries deliberately suppressing evidence. Heck… even if he didn’t want Lacey handing Daniel the solution on a plate, the obvious thing for him to do would have been to lead the class through analysing that damn witness statement and help them see what further questions to ask. It would have been great teaching and really interesting for the cadets. Bloody hell, Jeffries. You couldn’t even let your class have that much.

2. It’s disturbing that Lacey managed to lie to her brother so smoothly when he first asked her about the skateboard. Did Jeffries coach her in this?

3. How and when did Jeffries solve the case? He apparently managed it before Daniel first asked Lacey about the skateboard, and that happened between sessions 3 and 4, so he managed it fairly early on. And Jeffries would have had no obvious reason to ask Lacey; Daniel didn’t ask her because any clues had pointed to her at that stage, he asked her purely because she happened to be someone he knew who’d been at the school at around the right time. The other people the cadets have spoken to – the custodian and the person at the skateboard shop – didn’t mention anyone else coming round asking questions about the board (though, who knows, maybe Jeffries told them to keep quiet as well).

4. Did it not occur to Daniel at any point that, if he was looking for a girl who’d been at the school several years ago who had the initials ‘LB’, there was someone right there in his family who fitted the bill?

5. Could we all just take a minute to reflect on the irony of the fact that, within minutes of Jeffries assuring us that this clearly wasn’t a conspiracy, we find out that he was in fact conspiring with Lacey?


Sigh. Why am I even shocked by any of this? Jeffries told the cadets they’d discover the truth about the skateboard if they kept searching; but what he actually did was to give them the evidence he wanted, when he wanted to. I have no idea why I didn’t see that coming.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Chapter Eight, Part 1

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

Chapter 8: Resist Conspiracy Theories: Discover Why Lies Are Hard to Keep!

“Final chapter!” I announced to Katie. “What do you think of the book so far?”

“It’s a whole load of nonsense,” she told me.

I asked her what she expected to happen in the last chapter. “I presume that Jeffries is going to come up with some sort of nonsense, stretching the truth, ignoring huge issues, to make it seem like Christianity is true even though there are huge flaws in it?” she suggested.

So, subtle there, but I think if you read carefully between the lines you can spot a hint or two that my daughter was less than impressed with this book. What do you think?

Anyway… after this chapter there’s still an epilogue and a final section from Wallace pushing apologetics, so we’re not quite there yet, but this is the home stretch. As we go through, I’ll update my predictions for this chapter to see what I got right and what I got wrong.

It’s the last session of the cadet academy aka Bible class, and Jason ‘has spent the entire week thinking about what Jeffries said’. Foolishly, I thought for a moment this meant that he’d realised it was their last chance to solve the skateboard mystery that everyone else seems to have stopped caring about and that he’d spent the week thinking over something Jeffries said on the subject in hopes of figuring things out. I know, I know, I’m naive sometimes.

Jason has actually, of course, spent the entire week thinking about what Jeffries has said about Jesus. At the beginning of the session, before Jeffries has come in, he tells the others he still has his doubts because he wonders if the disciples who wrote about Jesus were ‘all just lying’.

Dr Sarah’s prediction accuracy tally, two paragraphs in:

  • Apostles’ Conspiracy Theory Strawman Argument: check
  • Skateboard-to-apologetics segue: nope. Wallace has actually changed things up a bit in the final chapter and decided just to plunge straight in with the apologetics.

So, the running total is one right, one wrong, and three remaining to be seen.

Back to the chapter. We have a grey insert box defining the word ‘conspiracy’ and telling us that successful conspiracies are ‘incredibly hard to pull off’. “If you think you know about a successful conspiracy, it wasn’t successful! If it had been, you wouldn’t know about it!” Wallace tells us.

“That, or there’s a chance that it was actually completely successful but you’re actually from a different time period and it bamboozled the people of that time period but you’re from a different time period so it hasn’t bamboozled you,” Katie pointed out. Which was kind of irrelevant with regards to Christianity, which I don’t believe to have been a conspiracy at all, but I didn’t bother getting into that one as I just wanted to push on through.

Insert Character, faced with Jason’s doubts, replies “But remember what Jeffries said about the fact that the disciples didn’t have a good reason to lie? Why would they all choose to suffer like they did if they were only lying?”

Hah! And, to emphasise this, I’m just going to skip ahead and quote Jeffries from a bit later in the chapter:

“Worse yet, they suffered like we described a few weeks ago. They were under incredible pressure to change their story, but they never did.[…]”

Hah! What did I tell you? Well, all right, technically what I told you was that the line would be ‘they died for their beliefs and never recanted’, but this is close enough. Dr Sarah’s prediction tally, three paragraphs in: Two right, one wrong. Not bad going.

Anyway, back to where we were… in comes Jeffries, ‘holding a stack of graduation certificates’. A stack? Just how many were there of the nameless, wordless other class members who didn’t get to be part of the plot at all? Quite a lot, apparently, unless the stack is because Jeffries wrote these graduation certificates on stone tablets. I feel sorry for the other cadets, condemned by the plot to week after week of sitting voicelessly while Jeffries lectured on evangelism and the few people for whom Wallace bothered to think of names lapped it all up.

And – surprise, surprise – Jeffries’ planned subject for the day is also an explanation of why Christianity wasn’t just a big conspiracy. Convenient, that, isn’t it?

“I’m confident he was listening in. Which he really should not be doing,” Katie told me. She might have a point.

We do in fact have a brief skateboard-to-apologetics bit inserted at this point, but not the one I was expecting; Jeffries asks the cadets how they know there was ever a skateboard mystery at all. How do they know it wasn’t all a big conspiracy cooked up by the custodian, the owner of the skateboard shop, and Lacey? Well, because that wouldn’t make any sense, that’s why. Ding ding ding! So now you can see why Christianity wasn’t all just a big conspiracy on the part of the apostles! And Wallace/Jeffries proceeds to give an explanation of what’s needed for a successful conspiracy theory that probably would have interested me if I hadn’t been all ‘strawman, bored now’ about it. I might go back to it some time if I’m having to deal with a ‘scientists are all conspiring to put autism in vaccines’ theory or whatever.

Oh, and we get this:

“[…]Remember what Hannah said a few weeks ago? There were five hundred people who said they saw Jesus all at one time.”

Er, no. There’s a claim in one of Paul’s letters, in what might be a formal creed, that Jesus appeared to ‘more than five hundred people’, but we have no details at all of what this ‘appearance’ involved, and it’s not mentioned in any of the other accounts of the resurrection appearances.

A quick note: When I first read this claim, I assumed Paul must be making it up. After all, this is the same Paul who seemed quite happy to misrepresent himself to potential converts if he thought it would win them over. A few years ago, I started thinking about it a different way; was there any event in the early church that might have genuinely been misinterpreted as a mass appearance, as rumours grew? There was, I rapidly realised; Acts 2 tells the story of a huge public sermon leading to mass conversion among the audience. The standards for what counted as an ‘appearance’ don’t seem to have been that high (from Luke’s description of Paul’s conversion, it seems Paul didn’t even see Jesus in his road-to-Damascus moment), so it’s quite plausible that an event at which a large crowd of people experienced some sort of religious ecstasy could have been interpreted, by eager members of the early church, as Jesus ‘appearing’ in some form to them to cause this ecstasy. So I now suspect that the ‘more than five hundred’ story actually refers to the Pentecostal sermon described in Acts 2. At any rate, that sounds a lot more plausible than the idea that there was a genuine mass vision of a resurrected Jesus which, for some reason, absolutely none of the other NT authors consider worth mentioning.

“And how could all these people stay in touch with each other to get their stories lined up, especially since they were scattered all over the Roman Empire?”

I have to wonder whether Wallace really believes that this mention of ‘more than five hundred people’ was only made after the purported five hundred had each individually been carefully interviewed, the interview records compared for consistency, and the process then repeated some time later to see whether anyone was willing to crack and confess to it all being a conspiracy. That is, after all, what he seems to be implying here. Who does Wallace believe would have been tracking down these people, checking their stories, and using any inconsistencies to blow the roof off the Christianity story? Who does he think would have bothered? People who didn’t believe in the early church’s claims wouldn’t have joined it, and authorities who suspected them of breaking laws or creating a public disturbance would have arrested and tried them on those suspicions; who does Wallace think would have been going to enormous effort to debunk it?

(Side note: Also, why does Wallace think the ‘five hundred’ would have ‘scattered all over the Roman empire’? That’s quite an assumption to make about a group of people about whom we know nothing. He honestly seems to be inventing this stuff as it suits him.)

Jason says that maybe the disciples managed a successful conspiracy because they were good friends and that helped them stick to their story, and Wallace/Jeffries comes up with the rather odd claim that this wouldn’t apply to Matthew, because, apparently, he wasn’t their friend:

“He wasn’t raised around the other disciples and wasn’t their friend when he met Jesus. Instead, he was a tax collector named Levi, disliked by the others.[…]”

So… anyone know of anything to support the idea that Matthew, whatever his status when he first met the disciples, didn’t become friends with them in the supposedly three years that they all lived and journeyed and strove towards a common goal together? Or is this another place where Wallace seems to have just invented stuff? I mean, yeah, I don’t believe in the conspiracy theory anyway, but this is a weird argument. But it did set Katie off on another thought; she thinks that Jesus would have pushed them into being friends whether they wanted to or not.

“‘You’re all worshipping me so you should all be friends in peace! Even though I’m going to bully you into believing in me so I’m secretly a huge jerk!'” she hypothesised. “Jesus is really a huge jerk, though, isn’t he?”

And on that note, I will break this post here and return for the next part of the chapter, in which the skateboard mystery finally, and underwhelmingly, gets solved. If you’re on the edge of your seats… well, don’t be, it’s soooo not gonna be worth it.