In 1897 an eight-year-old Manhattan girl wrote to the New York Sun newspaper, asking as to the truth of Santa Claus’s existence.
The answer, a masterpiece of kindly wisdom, is one of the few newspaper editorials to have gained immortality. “Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus” remains much loved in America still, and a fixture at many American Christmases.
How very fortunate that a Richard Dawkins did not occupy the Sun’s editorial chair at that time.

Richard Dawkins seems to have detected a weakness in his own arguments against Christianity given his effort now to come down on children’s fairytales.

According to a recent Press article, the current Most Prominent Atheist, perhaps bored with being vexed at God, is now vexed at children’s fairy stories. The Grinch who stole Grimm’s.
It has to be said for Dawkins that, when arguing against God, he has a lot of evidence on his side. The most passionate of believers would have to smile at Woody Allen, who said, of God,
“The worst you can say about him is that basically he’s an underachiever”.
Chaim Potock, in his wonderful novel The Book of Lights, has a Brooklyn Jewish mother who has lost her son fighting the Japanese. Heartbroken, she can find no meaning in this disaster.
Against Hitler, yes, but why the yellow people? What have they ever done to us?
Railing at God, she says, “Where is the sense? A wagon driver runs his business better than you run the world. How could you waste such a life?”
It would take an exceptionally brave theologian to argue with a Jewish mother.
It takes something resembling bravery to gaze on the waste, the senselessness, the notion of divine underachievement, a Being with fewer brains than a wagon driver running the world, and
retain a sense of trust and faith to say with Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well,
and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”. The bravery to find again the sense of childhood faith and trust as indicated by The Christ when he said, “Unless you become as little children, you cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven”.
I think what has happened with Dawkins is that he has realised that Grimm represents the soft underbelly of atheism. A child automatically believes in fairies, wizards, ogres, all the
fairytale world of magic mystery and wonder. Children expect and want frogs to turn into princes, as the dead body of Jesus turned into the resurrected spiritual body of The Christ. As the dead lion was marvellously and rapturously re-enlivened for the Pevensie girls.
Given faith and sound guidance, the fairytales of childhood mature into angels, miracles, spirituality, God. Teach your children well, as Crosby Stills and Nash sang it, half a lifetime ago. The straightest of lines exists between a childhood love of magic, and an
adult yearning for the spirit.
C. S. Lewis knew this when in Narnia he reinterpreted the core message of the Gospels. Jo Rowling, with Harry Potter, wrote of a Resurrection Stone, and survival of a spiritual consciousness after death. Like Lewis, her conceptual framework and metaphysics are
unmistakably Christian. Narnia and Hogwarts alike can be understood as representing the world
of the spirit (Lewis explicitly intended this), a world so close that pushing aside the fur coats in the wardrobe, or charging the barrier at platform nine and three quarters, brings the seekers to Tumnus and Hagrid, who can both be seen as guides and helpers, just like the guardian angels. I wonder indeed what Mr Dawkins thinks of Harry Potter.
There is an unforgettable scene from the movie version of Prince Caspian. A river, a bridge, and all the hideous forces of darkness preparing to cross. At the other end, one small girl holding her place, her job to prevent them. She has a tiny dagger and, as the ghouls advance
she, with heartbreaking vulnerability, takes it out and brandishes it at them. But behind the child stands the lion.
Christians recognise this scene as archetypally true, and untold thousands of saints, in every religion through history, have wrought marvels on Earth, trusting in the lion-God standing at their backs.
Richard Dawkins is a scientist and, to his credit, is in love with the physical world. He is passionately fascinated by the complex wonders of biology and evolution, but sees no master hand at work. The poet G. M. Hopkins also had a naturalist’s eye so sharp that it could
note and relish the light playing on soil fresh turned and polished by the plough. The world, he said, is charged with the grandeur of God. The world, says Richard, is charged with the grandeur of the world, a real clunker of a line, absurd, empty, explaining nothing.
Hopkins’ near contemporaries were Huxley and Darwin, as passionately fascinated
by nature as Richard Dawkins. Some of their contemporaries in turn sailed to Canterbury and remained certain that science and faith could still coexist, for on the lintel of our museum
are carved the words, sadly chiding, “Lo these are parts of HIS ways, but how little a portion is heard of HIM”.
Close to the Canterbury Museum is the river. When next strolling there on a sunny day, find a mallard and look at it with Hopkins’ eyes, or the wondering eyes of a child, and note the wondrous profligate richness of the luminous green, greener than all of Ireland, glowing
on its head and neck. Are such unnecessary beauties just for the laying of eggs, or is there something more to their grandeur.
Michael Goodson is a teacher and writer living in Christchurch.