I wasn't exposed to Christianity until I was five. My first encounter was when I was sent to a parochial kindergarten. (I'm guessing it was free, as that would be the only reason for my specific parents to have sent me there.) Talk about culture shock! But luckily we were all young children and pretty much no one expected you to know anything when you came to kindergarten, so it worked out ok for me. Every morning before our lessons started, the teacher led us through conditioned responses-- "Where does Jesus live?"-- "Up in heaven," we recited back to her. There were others, but that's the one I remember.
Every afternoon I would dutifully go home and say to my mom and dad, "You know what? Jesus lives up in heaven." And every afternoon, my dad would say, "Oh, yeah? You know what you should ask that teacher? 'Is heaven up? Did astronauts ever GO to heaven?'" Which, actually, was a great thing for him to have said, because it made my little skeptical brain centers light up. Nonetheless, I would mentally roll my eyes, because I was never going to ask my teacher that. At that time, I thought of the call and response as just a thing you did, like our daily chorus of, "Good MORNING, Teacher," a social cue and nothing more. I was no more going to ask her if astronauts ever discovered heaven than I would insist she provide evidence for the morning being good.
Plus, I didn't really know who this Jesus dude was, but my teacher sure seemed to think he was the stuff, lemme tell ya!
She taught us songs such as "Jesus Loves Me." Ok, that was pretty cool. This guy named Jesus loves me-- and apparently everyone in my class-- and we know this because some thing called the bible tells me so. Oh, wait-- it's a book, this bible. Gotcha.
Where it REALLY started to get good for me, though, was when we started rehearsing for the Christmas play! All of a sudden, through new songs like "Away In a Manger" and "Silent Night," it became apparent that Jesus was a god-- but not just any ol' god... a BABY GOD!!! The effect this had on my tiny-tot psyche was quite earthshaking. A baby god!!! A god... who's a BABY!!! That was just the greatest thing ever. He was holy, and he loves everyone, and he's LITTLE!!!! I'm little-- so he's like me!!! Only even littler, so he can be PICKED UP AND CUDDLED!!!!! He understands the hardships of childhood, a tough time when it's such hard work to make other people understand you. BABY GOD UNDERSTANDZ ME!!!
Eventually, I heard that he grew up and got a job as a carpenter, and then died and came back to life or something, but that stuff was singularly uninteresting to me. Once he was no longer a child, I just couldn't relate anymore. You might as well have told me Jesus grew up to be an accountant. I remember making up a song about him wherein I waxed rhapsodic about the manger bit, and all the animals, and how AWESOME a baby he was, but the narrative stumbled and rambled through the growing-up bit. So when I started to get bored I ended it with, "Annnd he will grow back downnn, and be-- a babyyy-- forEVERRRRRR!" 'Cause Baby God was totally the stuff, lemme tell ya!
I can only imagine that many other children, possibly throughout history, may have felt the same way. Little ancient Greek tots might have felt similar kinship with Hermes. What a baby Hermes was!!! On the day he was born, he got a little peckish and since NO ONE ever understands babies-- probably tried to change his diaper or something!-- he snuck out of his crib and rustled Apollo's sun-cattle! He even tied brooms to their tails so they'd sweep over their own tracks! Then when Apollo went and TATTLED to Zeus, Hermes batted his huge baby-eyes and said, "But Apollo, I made you this Lyre." And Zeus went, "AWWWW, look how cute! Don'tcha just wanna cuddle him? Don't be a jerk, Apollo." What a clever, plucky little scamp, that Hermes!!! He's like a deified Dennis The Menace! And he plays practical jokes on his annoying older brother and gets away with it!!! BABY GOD IZ MY HERO!!! Ancient Greek Hypothetical Five-Year-Old thinks Hermes is the stuff, lemme tell ya!
I think Baby God stories really fire the imaginations of children because they tap right into the Imaginary Friend stage of child development. What could be a cooler imaginary friend than a GOD with KEWL POWERZ who is otherwise a lot like them? Baby God myths can be potential propaganda devices for spreading religion to children, but they can also be used as fun teaching tools to show children how different cultures have viewed their gods through the ages. This perspective on myth and history can then become a great critical thinking tool for children to use in evaluating any belief they encounter.
Also, I think it's really important to talk to our children so that they know they have real people who love and understand them, even when it sometimes takes us mere mortals several steps to reach that understanding. And we can cuddle them. :)