Talking to Your Kids About Belief, Death.

 

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So, something that’s never happened here; Someone clicked on the Contact button on the homepage and sent me some questions. I thought I would go ahead and attempt to respond here. Of course, I’m not going to mention the name of the person, but I found his questions as something I hear personally from others that struggle with their faith and are at a point in their lives when they’re considering leaving that faith. Read on if you’re interested. Note that I’mnot an adive columnist and that anything I say here is based on my own experience.

Hi, I just came across your blog, and really enjoy it.  I just have a question regarding parenting I was hoping you might have some guidance on. Even though I’m wavering in my faith I would still feel guilty telling my daughters (ages 9 and 7) that i dont believe?  Is a comforting lie just a terrible thing?  Second, Im okay with death being the end of me. But my kids?  Not so much. It makes me sick. Any helpful thoughts would be appreciated. I was raised catholic but have struggled with my faith for most of my adult life. 

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with unbelief. It doesn’t change who you are, or hasn’t for myself anyone I’ve ever met. It is just that informing family and friends may be difficult. But to your questions.  Telling young children about belief is something I myself found difficult when my daughter was 7. Daddy, why don’t we go to church? I don’t believe anything they say is true. Is there a God? I don’t know for sure but then no one else does either. God created the universe, didn’t he? No one actually knows the origin of the universe. The problem with saying “God did it” is that statement provides nothing to convince anyone whether it’s true or false. It really depends to me, on how much a person is involved in their local church to talking with children. It may be a bit of a shock it a person is a regular, weekly, attendee and sudden;ly, stop attending. It may be easier, to wean yourself from services over a period of time. I can’t say for sure, because I wasn’t a father when I concluded that I didn’t believe and I find this question fascinating and thought provoking as to how I might approach the situation today.

So that’s kind of a non-answer, answer  isn’t it? But there’s something else I think that needs to be considered: even though your children are 9 and 7, and I think kids today are a bit more sophisticated at those  ages than I was, are they ready emotionally for any kind of shock to their daily lives?  I think most are able to absorb changes like this. Believe it or not, moving to a strange new town may be more stressful for them, than telling them that you have doubts about your faith.

And the questions go on and on. No one, that I know of, is able to answer any questions to any child’s inquiry where they are completely satisfied. The best thing I can do, is live my life, without any belief in any god(s) and show my child that there’s nothing wrong being an unbeliever. Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially for adults that have to navigate a different world.

As to discussing the concept of death with your children, that may actually be somewhat easier. The most truthful answer is, no one knows what occurs after death. Atheists, like me, tend to lean towards the idea of death being the end. Period.  But none of us can say for sure, the same as no one, religious or not, can say for certain whether there are any god(s) or not. I don’t see any evidence for any god and that also makes me think that there is no afterlife because all of the mythology in human history concerning gods, has a basis in some sort of heaven or some other place where we go after we die. No gods to me means that it’s unlikely we transition to another world. I would personally not go there, attempting to explain if we have a soul or not. Although there’s no proof for that as well, it really comes down to the fact that we just don’t know.

Most people want to believe that there’s something after this life, and I have no problem, generally with that belief. The problem I’ve had is the concept of if you’re not good (as defined by someone else), then you’ll end up in eternal torture. I think that teaching kids that actual child abuse.

I think what I’m getting at overall here is that unless your children ask you, there’s no reason to sit them down and have a serious conversation about either. If you stop going to church, that may begin that conversation because they’ll certainly want to know why you don’t attend anymore. That’s good because it’s them that have initiated the conversation which, I believe, means they are interested, and even more, ready for that discussion (and yes, it should be a discussion, not a lecture).

 

9 thoughts on “Talking to Your Kids About Belief, Death.

  1. That makes sense. It’s much easier to just say, “we don’t know” rather than…Nothing happens; death is the end, and you better learn to deal with it. It is also comforting to know that eventually my daughters will come to determine their own beliefs regardless of what I think. Appreciate the response.

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    • Thanks for asking, and also for reading the blog. PErsonally, I don’t force my daughter to any decision about atheism. I try to be the best person/Dad I can be and I think that shows her that we can be good, moral people, without having to rely on some supernatural being in order to be moral and ethical. TO date, and she’s 13 now, she’s never wanted to “go to church”, even though a few of her “besties” are regular attendees.

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  2. We were fairly straight forward about explaining to our kids that “some people believe in God” and some people go to church and some people pray to Jesus” but we don’t believe that and we don’t do that.

    The death thing is a bit different and when my FIL died when my eldest was 4, I let him send a balloon up to Pop-Pop in heaven. It satisfied, but living on a farm and raising chickens, having cats and dogs, they learned early that sometimes living things died. That we dressed chickens for the freezer and we did that by chopping off the heads. That when a cat, fish, dog or bird died, we buried the body and they were gone, except in our memories.

    Our 2 and a half year-old grandson has experienced the loss of one of our old cats, and we explained that she is gone and is under the ground, because we buried her. For a while, he wanted us to dig her up, but we told him gently again that she was gone, was dead and not coming back. There is no choice for atheists; the dead are not sleeping and they are not in heaven and that is pretty much what we must pass on to our children.

    Is that indoctrination? I don’t reason so. I am an atheist because I have no god belief and I am strong in my reasoning. I was not going to allow other children, parents or teachers to put such thoughts in my children’s minds. I did not let my children test out religions, but Christianity is overt in our schools and neighborhoods, so they were not unaware of our differences and naturally had Jewish and Christian friends during their public school years.

    If I reason that no unsubstantiated supernatural entities or realms exist then that is what I am going to teach my children and rear them that way. If they decide as adults that they want to try religions, that then is their choice, but there is no need for any child of atheist parents to try out religions or learn about deity beliefs and religions. They don’t need it, we don’t need it, we are either atheists or we are not. This is not to say that children or adults should be allowed to be rude or to avoid all religious ceremonies of their friends. No…manners is what keeps a civil society. Going to a church wedding or funeral or experiencing a blessing before a meal or prayers of believers is not going to change anyone, unless they are weakened by doubt already. In the same manner, believers experiencing non-believing discourse or events will only be changed if they are already weakened by doubt. Of course, apparently some Christians and some atheists are weakened by doubt, which begs the question of why?

    Either one is an atheist or a theist or not.

    -Jeanne

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    • Hi Jeanne, it’s late here in France (1230 am) but I thought I should respond before I go to bed. All I was saying, in the post, and I believe it to be true, is that we son’t know what happens after death ( for people) and if a young child asks, that’s the correct answer, because, none of us actually know. I have a post coming out tomorrow morning (your time) that delves into that a little more. Off to sleep.

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  3. I agree that we don’t know what happens when the body dies is a worthy answer, but we know that the body is not going to be alive again, that the person of that body is gone and that pretending otherwise is not at all reasonable. We are not sleeping, we are not manifesting in another form that resembles life and we do not have a presence in the world, such that we can interact with it or with the people that are alive.

    Might we be surprised? It is possible, but not probable, which for me passes for knowing something about what happens. Sleep tight.

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  4. Agree that threatening a child with hell is child abuse. Thankfully I grew up “Catholic Lite” Im 38 and dont think my parents have ever talked about hell. I dont recall any of my priests really discussing it either. My daughters definitely wont ever hear it from me. Even as a believer I found talk of demons and hell a little silly.
    My daughters definitely have experience with church. Both were baptized and both will make first communion
    I dont think its as simple as saying, “Either youre an atheist or youre not.” On Dawkins scale of belief Im a 5. Sometimes shifts to 4 and rarely to 3. Lately its been steady; maybe 5.5. 😉

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    • Sorry, I realized that the phrase was not really what I was trying to convey. What I mean is that if a parent holds strong beliefs as a theist or an atheist, then I consider that should come across in their parenting. Believers do not (except in unusual cases) encourage their children to venture into atheism or different deisms and atheists should not either, in my opinion. Either atheistic “beliefs” is what we accept as reasonable truth or it isn’t. And if a person is wavering in either belief system (just let me call it a belief system for simplicity) then they will be influenced by exposure to other belief systems. If they are not, then they will be steadfast to their belief system, no matter what.

      I cannot imagine anything that would alter my atheism, nor my adult children’s. I am amazed when tragedies, either large or small, alter belief systems of anyone previously steadfast in their “belief.”

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  5. Pingback: Believing in the Afterlife | Conservative Skeptic

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