Do parents dread the God question as much as they dread their toddlers asking them where babies come from? I recall a difficult moment on a train a few years back when a very embarrassed parent shushed her little girl for announcing loudly to the whole carriage: ‘There is No God. Only Dragons.’ A friend recently asked me about how to deal with her 5-year old’s sudden interest in the existence of God, because as a theologian I ought to know these things.
Well, one could sit them down and launch into the Ontological Argument, or one could take refuge in vague mutterings about avuncular grandfathers on clouds, but my favourite line is the Gruffalo Defence. For those of you who haven’t had to learn the Gruffalo by heart at the behest of a small tyrant, it is a children’s story in which a mouse invents a monster to avoid being eaten, only to discover to his horror that the monster really exists. Many atheists argue that God is a man-made manipulative device with no basis in reality, serving the same function as Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. And of course we cannot step outside reality to see who’s right, but most kids do know about the Gruffalo. Maybe we have made him up. But maybe he’s real, too.