Last night, I took my 3-year-old niece to see a movie called Racing Stripes, which is all about a girl's efforts to ride a zebra in a horse race. The film is shot in Babe style, with farm animals speaking English to each other, their mouths moving convincingly. (Special-effects wizardry has come a long way since the days when they'd feed Mr. Ed some peanut butter to simulate vocal prowess.)
During the movie, I wondered if kids all over the world watching these animals, including Jenna, would come to believe that some animals can actually talk—after all, this is live action, not a cartoon. Sometimes I find myself talking to my niece about what is "real" versus "pretend." For example, when travelling to Disneyland together, we often encounter people dressed in costumes: Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Pluto, Daisy Duck, et al. At her age, she doesn't quite understand that these "characters" are part of the pretend world. At least she doesn't admit it. Santa Claus is another one we can put into the "pretend" column. It's fun to pretend about things like this. But like her older sisters, it will inevitably dawn on Jenna that all of these creations are nothing more than make-believe, and belief in the magic will become a fading memory.
And suddenly, during the movie, it occured to me that adults love to pretend as well. You can't very well fool us into thinking that the fellow walking around in the Eeyore costume is, in reality, the character from the popular animated cartoons. No, we're pretty sharp about that. But even the simple act of watching Racing Stripes requires some amount of pretending, as our "suspension of disbelief" takes over and we become involved in the story of a young girl's love for her pet zebra. When we watch a TV show or read a novel, we're committing an act not unlike pretending. But we, as adults, are well versed in accepting as fact many things that are (at least from my perception) ideas borrowed from fantasy. And the best example of this is God.
Most adults believe in God, for the simple reason that their parents taught it to them. It's funny to me that the same kids who are taught that Santa Claus is real eventually come to the realization that he's a product of deception and misinformation. But most often, belief in God persists. What's the difference? They're both two guys who have got their eye on you, watching you in secret, taking notes on your good and bad behavior, with consequences on that behavior coming along somewhere down the pike.
My own religion, Atheism, dictates that most people continue to embrace their belief in God simply as a way of dealing with their own mortality. Nobody wants to think that after you die, you just cease to exist. That would be too horrible. And it is horrible. One way of escaping that inevitability is through pretending—to make believe in a "soul" inside you that magically remains alive after you die, and that your entire consciousness will live forever in perfect bliss for all time up in the pretend place called Heaven. Unless it's the other pretend place, where Michael Jackson is going.
How do you make pretending a part of your life?