Freud, in his late life, moved from patient-on-couch analysis to larger theorizations about religion and civilization. In one such tract, The Future of an Illusion, he makes mention of how a store of (religious) ideas “is created, born of man’s need to make his helplessness tolerable and built up from the material of memories of the helplessness of his own childhood….” This is not the only instance of religious skepticism equating religiosity and the state of childhood; religious mythologies are fairy tales, the bogeyman Satan and hell are bedtime stories meant to frighten children, and civilized peoples grow out of religious superstitions—you have heard these things before, I am sure.
As a father of three, I wonder where this association comes from. Did any of these people have kids? My experience has been that children, if you don’t do some educating, are blithely devoid of religion. My wife and I were reflecting that my twins are the most visibly, causelessly happy children we’ve ever seen, at least when they’re not hungry; but they don’t pray unless we tell them, and they aren’t devout, observant, or particularly religious. They are far more interested in playing with their cars, role-playing, kicking around and generally manipulating dirt (or more recently, snow), and drinking fizzy-fizzy.
Religion seems to take hold precisely in adolescence and adulthood. A purely pleasure-oriented, gratification-centered, this-worldly outlook seems to be the one children grow out of; nor do I think my children, inventive though they are when it comes to storytelling, are capable of inventing the mythic material in the Mahabharata. What a prodigy a child would have to be, to come up with a single enduring myth!
No, religiosity is utterly grown up. Consider the most famous conversions in history. Siddhartha Gautama had a wife and son—and left his palace at age 29, hobnobbed with ascetics and religious teachers, and became the Buddha at age 35. Augustine was baptized by Ambrose at age 33. The Arab merchant known as Mohammed, swept up in the embrace of the Prophet Gabriel, recited the first verse of the Qur’an age 40.
Child’s play? More like middle-aged man’s play.