When I was three years old, my step-grandfather died. He choked on his food, and I remember him falling to the ground while my grandmother tried to save him. I then remember firefighters coming into my grandmother's house while my older sister insisted that I stay in the other room and out of the way.
The thing is, I have vivid images of this in my mind, and for most of my life, I swore that I witnessed him dying. Now that I'm an adult and a father, I think it's time to fess up that my sister was probably right when she insisted that I was in the other room the whole time. The fact of the matter is that memories aren't very reliable - especially at that age. I probably heard my grandmother tell the story so many times that I created memories in my head as to what happened.
Yeah, sure, it's possible that it happened just as I remember it. (But why would the firefighters be dressed in full firefighting gear when they weren't responding to a fire?) Or maybe I did see some stuff and my memories are altered. One way or the other, I have to accept it that three year old Lance Johnson might be full of shit.
I think that it's safe to say that he's pretty normal. At this age, he doesn't quite have a grasp on what's real and what isn't. He will sometimes talk about how he's "just pretending" so the concept is starting to have an effect on him, but as of right now, I know to not take him too literally.
I also know that with the proper suggestion, I could probably convince him of anything. I think that I've written about this before, but the last time we had a thunderstorm, I informed him that Thor was outside. He then insisted that Thor was on our roof, and he wanted to invite him in to say hello. I'm sure that if I had several follow-up conversations with him, I could probably convince him that he actually SAW Thor, and if he lived in a world where most people accepted Thor's existence, he'd keep believing it until adulthood.
While I hope you'll forgive me for being a little late to the party when it comes to this topic, I can't help but think of all this when I hear about the book/movie Heaven is for Real. Yeah, yeah, I haven't read the book nor have I seen the movie, but I am aware of the claims that this work of "non-fiction" makes. Supposedly a three-year-old boy had a near-death experience, went to heaven, and some time after, he began to tell his family about his experience. Apparently, he told his parents things that he couldn't possibly know, like how he had a sister.
What's so remarkable about the sister thing is that his mother was pregnant with a daughter, but she had a miscarriage. So, how could he know about that sister? HOW COULD HE KNOW???????? It's impossible, therefore, ipso facto ergo e pluribus unum, his stories offer us incontrovertible PROOF of heaven.
Or maybe his parents did tell him about it, or they had mentioned it in conversation. Do you remember every single thing you say out loud in front of specific people? I sure as hell don't. Another possibility is that it's a coincidence. I see that as a possibility because my son sometimes talks about his non-existent sister, (not even one who died in the womb).
There's more to the story, of course, and others have already done more thorough analyses of the various claims.
What gets me is that people are so eager to believe that they don't even stop to think for just a little bit. Let's say, for argument's sake, that heaven is a real place. Let's also say that the kid actually died (no evidence seems to be provided for this). Dammit, let's even say that he experienced the afterlife. Even with all that, how silly and gullible do you have to be to believe every detail of his story (like Jesus on the rainbow horse)? I don't trust my son's account of what happened at preschool - not that I think he's particularly dishonest, but BECAUSE HE'S THREE.
I bet that a lot of people who completely swallow this story have no problem understanding that little kids are unreliable when it comes to successfully recalling the day's events, yet they completely turn off that objection when it comes to something that they desperately WANT to believe is true. (In all fairness, there have been plenty of Christians who have expressed skepticism of this story, yet they no doubt believe in heaven.)
I've already written a lengthy post on children and religious indoctrination. As of right now, the only conversations I've had with my son about any gods is when I read to him from children's books about The Bible and Greek and Norse mythology. At this age, he couldn't fully comprehend me whether I told him that God was real or not real, as he barely has a grasp on what reality even is.
I once had a woman tell me about an experience she had with her three year old son, where the two of them encountered some giant demon spider. Her whole story was in defense of prayer, as she said that her son was freaking out, but the prayer finally calmed him down. She also told me that the fact that her son also saw the demon spider (I wish that I was making this up) was "proof" that it was real.
If I wanted to be The Worst Dad Ever, I could conduct a little experiment where I could pretend to see a giant demon spider (or pick your animal/shape) and get so freaked out about it that my son would insist that he saw it as well. After all, there's a monster in his room, ya know. (Which doesn't really freak him out. He talks about it the same way I'd talk about having a fly in my room - bothersome but not enough reason to panic.)
So parents: love your children. Teach them the best you can. Listen to them. But realize - they're full of shit, and they cannot be trusted. However, they can be forgiven for it. As for adults who take their stories and sell books that dupe the general public? They're maliciously full of shit.