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(Post 22 of 33 in my 16-hour shift for the Secular Student Alliance Blogathon.)

6:30 pm EDT

What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.
Bertrand Russell

I make the point in PBB and again every Christmas that doing Santa the right way, with a light touch, can be a perfect critical thinking dry run for thinking about religion. But there’s a secondary point I think is especially fascinating and useful in drawing out the parallels — what Russell calls the difference between the will to believe and the will to find out.

When kids begin to wonder about Santa, they first wonder around the edges, not at the heart. Their desire to believe still trumps their desire to find out, and even the brightest kids will often accept the most ludicrous, spit-and-sealing-wax answers to how the reindeer fly or how Santa manages the global transit in a night and skip happily away to play. Eventually they cross that Rubicon into the will to find out. They ask the question right at the heart, and the myth falls apart.

The same thing happens with belief in God. Initial questions are around the edges (“Why does God allow evil?”, “How can God be everywhere?”), to which ministers and theologians have constructed answers that are (to those of us in post-transition) transparently of spit-and-sealing-wax. And the person whose will to believe is still stronger than the will to find out will skip happily away to play.

Because the promised consequences of disbelief are so unthinkable, many never cross that Rubicon, and all the shouting and exasperation and argumentation we can muster will fall, more often than not, on deaf ears.

A big part of the solution is creating a clear, satisfying place to stand on the other side of the question — a world of nonbelievers in which the gifts still arrive, and the dire consequences of questioning the Man Behind the Curtain are seen for what they are.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.