- When I was a little boy, I remember how silly I felt when I mentioned the present the "mouse" (French cultural equivalent for the tooth fairy) brought me in exchange for a fallen milk tooth, and one smartass classmate told me bluntly: "Do you really believe in that? There is no mouse, it's your parents who gave it to you." I was the youngest in my class by one year, and probably somewhat naive. Yet I didn't think for a second that my parents fooled me. I was ashamed of what I said, not what I believed. I think deep inside I was aware of the fictional character of the mouse: I wouldn't have expected to see or hear it in the night. But I was pissed for having my story destroyed by some "higher knowledge".
- Years later, I was working in a vacation camp for children and we organized a great game. One of the leaders appeared, very well costumed and made up, and told the children a daydream story before we all took them out in the forest to look for hidden treasures. Halfway one of the children recognized the guy, and told him "I know you're so-and-so", before the whole group. I thought this was the end of the fantasy. But it was not, because it was fun and all the children (including the "bright" one) quickly stepped into the game again. What I understood this day is that children not only know the difference between reality and fiction, but also have a wonderful capacity to skip from one mode to the other as they please.
- Years later, the Protestant church I occasionally attended asked me to help in Sunday school. I had done this before in other churches and I thought I could do it again. But something had changed: my daughter was about to be born, and while I attended the preparatory meeting for Sunday school teachers I suddenly realized that I would never want her to be raised in such a religious belief. Yes I would tell her about religion as just another story, but that was not what I was expected to do there (although this Church was a pretty liberal one). How could I teach something I did not want for my own child? So I called off (and this was the end of my churchgoing).
Bottom line: fantasy for children (which I think is very useful and even necessary) is not the same as beliefs for teenagers and grownups. When the first is supposed to grow into the other (as in religious teaching) this is no mere fantasy. Nobody believes in Santa Claus as an adult. There I draw the line (but it is just me).
Btw, my daughter enjoys visiting churches, she knows who is the guy on the cross and the mother with the baby, she makes the crib for Christmas, but she can step in and out of the story as she likes.