Once two boys were walking home from Sunday School when one turned to the other and said, “Do you believe in the Devil?” and the other responded, “No, it’s like Santa Claus. It’s your dad.”
In the Unitarian Universalist Church we are known for our skepticism. We prize our rationality. In our Sunday Schools we teach kids to think for themselves. And yet we are entering the winter holiday season: a season that has always been marked by a mixture fact and fiction, history and legend, reality and imagination, myth and memory.
So in this season of Santa, elves, flying sleighs, red nosed reindeer and talking snowmen, it seems appropriate to step back and ask ourselves the question, “What’s a Unitarian to do?”
In the UU church we often describe ourselves as a place “where reason and religion meet.” And yet perhaps now is a good time to re-examine our assumptions about reason and religion. And for that purpose, this morning I am going to make what one could call the atheist case for the tooth fairy. Think of me as an attorney. The tooth fairy is my client. Reason and rationality are the prosecution. I am for the defense.
Now I recognize that defense attorneys are not always popular. There is a reason that defense attorney’s are sometimes called the devil’s advocate. However, this morning I am not playing the devil’s advocate. Instead, I am the tooth fairy’s advocate. And let me state for the record that my client is benevolent, good, charitable and noble. I suspect that many in this room have benefited from her largesse and generosity.
So this morning I am going to state my case for the tooth fairy, but before I do so, I have a professional obligation as a Unitarian Universalist minister to also make sure that reason has at least a token defense.
As the self-described Unitarian Thomas Jefferson once said, “Your own reason is the only oracle given to you by heaven.” Or as William Ellery Channing, the founder of the Unitarian church once said, “We should no more abandon the use of our reason for thinking than we should abandon the use of our eyes for seeing, our ears for hearing, our feet for walking and our hands for doing good works.” Our reason is part and parcel of who we are.
Many years ago I was driving down the road channel surfing on the radio when I heard a radio preacher denouncing the evils of reason. He was condemning intellectualism and rationality with a passion. However, as I listened to him I couldn’t help but notice that he had given the issue a lot of thought. He had a carefully researched and outlined sermon. From this I conclude, “We can’t even make a case against reason without using our reason. We can’t make a case against the intellect without using our intellect.” So in the Unitarian Universalist Church we honor the life of the mind and we embrace our reasoning.
We agree with the advice Thomas Jefferson gave his nephew Peter Carr when he wrote, “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there is one, (then that God) must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”
So in our tradition where it is acceptable to question the existence of God, I must grudgingly admit that it is must also be permissible to question the existence of the tooth fairy, but nevertheless, I will make my case for her existence and leave the verdict to the jury. If you have any questions, or you just want to get uppity, we can talk about it during the coffee hour.
Of course, before I make my case for the tooth fairy I must anticipate some of your criticisms; for there are other rational people who have made the case for fairies only to have their arguments debunked. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, wrote pamphlets and books in favor of the existence of fairies. Photographs of young girls, the Fox sisters of Yorkshire, posing with fairies, convinced him. He even wrote an article in defense of the girls for the Christmas edition of the Strand magazine. He was widely ridiculed for this.
Many people have wondered how the creator of Sherlock Holmes, the ultimate rationalist, could have fallen for those pictures, which to modern eyes clearly look faked, and all evidence suggests that the fairies were nothing but cardboard cutouts, one dimensional figures. Nevertheless he did believe. He thought the photographs were scientific proof.
However, today, in our age of Photoshop we tend to be even more skeptical of photos. So this morning I want to make my case using a different approach altogether. I want to build my case on a firmer foundation than photography.
As Sherlock Holmes used to say, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” So in so much as I am able I am going to try base my case for the tooth fairy on improbabilities rather than impossibilities, improbabilities of the imagination, rather than impossibilities easily disproven by rational analysis.
My case for the existence of the tooth fairy is based on the power of childhood. I want to make the case that the world would be less without the tooth fairy just as our world would be less without Alice in Wonderland or Hermione Grainger at Hogwarts or Charlotte’s Web. I want to make the case that the inner world of imagination is no less real that the outward. Native Americans and indigenous people understand this. Our eyes see outward. Our ears hear outward. However, there is an inner life that is also real and this inner life is shaped by metaphor, myth and imagination.
Of course, I want to assert the existence of the tooth fairy without disparaging rationalism. There is a statement that is circulating on the Internet that speaks to my point this morning. The statement reads,
“Being an atheist is okay. Being an atheist and shaming religions and spirituality as silly and not real is not okay.
Being religious is okay. Being homophobic, misogynistic, racist, or an otherwise hateful person in the name of religion is not okay.
Being a reindeer is okay. Bullying and excluding another reindeer because he has a shiny red nose is not okay.”
All humor aside, the statement does remind us that even if we are an atheist, rationalists, materialists we can still learn something from the story of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.
In the Unitarian Universalist Church we do support rational religion but in our support sometimes we forget that our rational mind can also be the source of our problems, our anxieties, our worries and our depression. We live in an age where more and more people are affected by more and more addictions. Jungian psychologists tell us that one of the necessary steps toward overcoming our addictions is to reconnect with our inner child, to reconnect to our original innocence, to reconnect with the original wonder and magic of existence. Because when we lose our childhood it leaves an empty space. When we lose our sense of wonder it’s like a missing tooth. And who better to fill that emptiness than the tooth fairy.
This week I posted a question on my Facebook page, “Does the tooth fairy visit your house, if so what is the going rate?” Here’s what I’ve learned. In some families the tooth fairy brings young girls Sacagawea coins and Susan B Anthony dollars as an act of feminist empowerment. In other families the tooth fairy delivers foreign currency since she travels all over the world and might be disoriented at any given moment. In some households she brings tiny toys like hot wheel cars, a bracelet or a miniature dinosaur. In other households the tooth fairy pays a late fee if delivery is not on schedule. Like any cash business the tooth fairy sometimes has a hard time finding the correct change so a kid might get 1 dollar or 5 dollars or 10 dollars under their pillow depending on what’s in her pocket. In some families the tooth fairy seems to have concerns over the devaluation of the currency so kids get gold coins. Now based on this information you might conclude that tooth fairy is arbitrary, erratic, inconsistent, but what else do you expect a fairy to be?
Someone shared with me an article from National Public Radio that indicates that the amount of money given by the tooth fairy is rising higher than the rate of inflation. The rate of inflation for teeth is 10% compared to the overall average of 2%. So my friends as I make my case this morning no one can accuse me of not doing my research.
However, my most important argument to make on behalf of my client is that we need imagination in order to be fully human. In 1897 an 8 year-old girl named Virginia wrote a very famous letter to the New York Sun to ask the editor if Santa Claus really exists and the editor wrote back,
“Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy…Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies!
Well, that pretty much sums up my argument. Now it is time for the jury to decide. And so I contend that the tooth fairy is not a proposition to argue about. The tooth fairy is love and generosity and kindness, which is why we should always welcome her as a guest in our home.
So for my closing argument let me remind you of the scene in the stage play Peter Pan when the fairy Tinker Bell drinks poison in order to save the life of Peter Pan. Her light begins to get dimmer and dimmer and it looks like she is dying until Peter Pan thinks of a solution. He tells his audience (and I say to you), “Clap if you believe in fairies.” That’s not loud enough, “Clap if you believe in fairies.” That’s pretty good but I think we can do it even better, “Clap if you believe in fairies.” I rest my case.
One last thing before I go. Many years ago Christopher Hamblin told me that I might enjoy going to a gathering of a queer activist group known as the Radical Faeries, an organization dedicated to bringing creativity and imagination to the fight against homophobia. He seemed to think I would be a great Radical Faery. I would fit right in. Maybe one day I will go to a gathering and even join the movement and then when someone asks my children, “Do you believe in fairies?” They can honestly say, “Yes, we do. It’s our dad.”
(This sermon was given at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday, December 9, 2018, by the Reverend Chris Buice)