Friday, October 10, 2008

Question from Greg

Here's an interesting question posed by Jeffrey Luhn, one of our new members:

"My sister-in-law just passed away from cancer at age 57. We have some young people in our family and they want to know why it happened to her and not to someone bad (Dick Cheney for instance). They also ask me where she went after her heart stopped beating.

I've always thought life is a crap shoot and some people don't get a fair shot. If there was a god, he'd be a better judge of character, no? Heaven? As I get older I can't help hoping, but my brain tells me it ain't so.

But these aren't the things to say to a 9-year-old. I've been wrestling with this. Does anyone have a simple answer or concept to these questions that a child could understand - and their parents would not be upset at me for saying?"


Chris Bradley said...

There's no good answer to that question. Even if Jeff is absolutely honest with the child about how death is the end, and as gentle as a summer rain, the religious people in the child's life will lie to the child and promote their insipid mythology.

But, of course, to say nothing is to allow the child's mind to be warped by this mythology. You can't raise a child on lies and expect them to see the truth.

It really, I think, depends on Jeff's relationship with the child and the larger family. *Can* he bring up the idea that death is the end without being sabotaged by other family members? If so, he should. If not . . . well, maybe not. Maybe the way to debunk the absurdity of religion in the child's mind would be to choose another place and time - I dunno, I don't know the situation.

Absent other people who choose to promote mythology as fact, however, I'd be honest with the 9 year old. Death is the end. It sucks, but it's true. There's no reason to be frightened of death, in particular, because it is the end of all pain, all suffering. Sure, it's the end of all identity, too, and we naturally fear it, but we fear lots of things that happen to us. Speak about death, as the end of life, with compassion. Kids are reasonably tough. They'll adapt and learn not to fear death any more than the rest of us.

Ooddiittyy said...

I would similarly recommend simply stating the truth: "We don't know what happens after someone dies, but it's a part of life that is, as of yet, unavoidable."

I wouldn't be too heavy-handed in attempting to proselytize the kid into the ranks of nonbelievers specifically; the arguments surrounding theism are too nuanced for someone his age. The basic truth, however, is a good place to start. :)

Esquire said...

Chris - I take serious issue with the statements you have made. You use the word "lie" when speaking about "religious people" discussing their beliefs. If you look at the defenition of "lie", you will see that there needs to be intent on behalf of the teller of the "lie".

Definition of lie "a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth".

As such, to insinuate that because someone holds religious beliefs and actually, honestly believes that there is life after death in the presence of some supreme being, is a lie is just flat out wrong. To express to a child the true beliefs held by someone is not "lying" to a child since there is no intent to deceive, nor, in my example, does the speaker speak intentional untruths because the speaker actually believes the ideas of which he/she speaks. And don't even try to suggest to me that the speaker knows that these are untruths because there is no proof of the results of which they speak. That argument does not work unless you have died, seen the "other side" of death and can offer some hard proof that it is not true.

As such, I suggest you re-evaluate your thought process and think hard about your responses before giving any sort of advice to others. Ooddiittyy is much more helpful with the advice of saying "none of really knows what happens after death". Furthermore, I think it is just fine to say "some people believe "x" and some people believe "y", but it is up to you (the child) to search out your own beliefs as you grow and learn."