Sunday, August 24, 2008

Telling kids about death

As far as parenting goes, explaining death and what comes after death can be a challenge, even scary. It doesn’t need to be that way, especially for Christian parents.

Have you ever had a surprise party thrown in your honor? You walk through the door and the lights come on and the horns blow, close friends cheer as ribbons and balloons are thrown into the air?

Have you ever watched as an athlete’s name is announced and he runs from the dressing room tunnel and onto the field as 60 or 70 thousand people cheer his arrival?

Have you watched as sailors return home from a deployment? And as they leave the ship their loved ones run to great them with kisses and hugs?

Or have you noticed the smiles on the Olympic athlete’s faces as they rise to the podium and wave and smile to the cheering crowd as they receive the reward for achieving their goal?

When my kids ask about death, these are some of the analogies that I use. Because my children have made decisions to follow Jesus, I can tell them that Jesus and the angels and all the people who have died before us and who are already in heaven, well, those people will welcome us home with cheers and shouts of joy. Another good thing to do, especially if you have lots of kids like we do, or if you have a bunch of people over when the question is asked is to have some of them go outside onto the deck while the others, along with the kid who’s been asking about death stay back in the kitchen or whatever. The questioner’s favourite parent goes onto the deck and plays the role of Jesus. Then, the questioner pretends that s/he is dying and is crossing from this world into the next. As s/he opens the door and steps across the threshold leading to the deck, the people in the kitchen say, “There s/he goes. Bye, bye honey. We love you.” while at the same time those on the deck cheer and shout, “Here s/he comes! Yea, she made it safely home.” And while the people on the deck are cheering the arrival of the child, the parent playing the role of Jesus gives the kid a big hug and introduces the questioner to those who have gone to the deck before with, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to introduce to you my personal friend (insert name). Now my child, come and play with us.” The Bible explains to us that "We (Christians) do not grieve as those who have no hope." Death need not be a difficult passage for us and Jesus is the reason why.

What a difference it must be for atheist parents, especially for those who want to be honest with their child.

“Dad, what happens when we die?”

“Well, nothing really. We come from nothing and we go to nothing. Either your mom and I or someone else will put you into the ground and cover you with dirt and the person that we knew as YOU will just totally and completely cease to exist. And that’s the end of it.”

“But, how can that be it? How can I just come to an end? What if I only live until I’m five years old? I won’t get to do anything important.”

“My dear boy. Five years or five hundred years, it doesn’t really matter because none of it counts, not ultimately anyhow. Humans are part of a dying species in a dying universe. You’re an accident little buddy. An absolute accident to which we gave a name. Don’t get me wrong. We love you, and perhaps some day you can even manipulate some other people to love you too. But apart from that you’re pretty much on your own. I sure hope you don’t grow up to be so weak as to think that you need anything other than yourself.”

“But what are we here for? Is there any meaning or purpose to all this?”

“Use your brain son. How can there be meaning and purpose to something that’s an accident? Of course, you can pretend this life has meaning and purpose if you want. You can be kind, or get really rich, or you can discover how our chemicals interact so that the lives of similar organisms might be made easier. You can get a good education or do some type of research, anything really to relieve the boredom from now until you die. Just remember. You can better the human race all you want son, but when it’s done, it’s done. And all the time that you spend making someone else’s life better, well, what’s happening to your own? You know what I mean? All those people whose lives you’ve made easier? They’re going to die just like you’re going to die and no matter what you’ve done during your life time, in the end it all counts for absolutely nothing. Since there is no objective purpose to human life, none of what you choose to do has any objective significance, regardless of how important you happen to think they are. Fame and importance are ultimately meaningless no matter how much you pretend otherwise. Reality is, you come from nothing and you’re headed to nothing, just emptiness, a void. That’s all there is son. That’s not a bad thing son. It just is. The fact is, our life has no meaning, no context and absolutely no purpose save the purpose that you pretend to give it. Pretty cool huh?”

“But daddy, shouldn’t I at least try to be a good person?”

“Oh my precious little munchkin. Good and bad are just subjective words that some people use to describe things that they like or don’t like. Have you read Ayn Rand or Camus, or Hume or Sartre or Monod? Oh, of course you haven’t. You can’t read yet. Listen, as soon as you can read you should check out what these people have to say. You’ll find them very encouraging. They explain it a lot better than I do. All I know is, live good, live bad, live for yourself, live for others, none of it matters because the end of the good and the end of the bad, the end of people, pigs and insects is exactly the same, we rot away and become a different form of matter. Now, why don’t you run along. I’ve got some useless and pointless things to do.”

“But dad, that’s absurd!. How do you expect me to be happy if life has no meaning, context or purpose” If that’s the way things are, why did you make me in the fist place?”

“Well, sweetpea, now you’re starting to ask what's beginning to feel like a lot of questions. First of all, I couldn’t not make you. My genes compel me to reproduce. I squirt my semen here and there and everywhere, not so much since your mother and I got married, but it’s like I have no other option. Our DNA must reproduce. A very brilliant man named Richard Dawkins says so and he wouldn’t lie. You’ll do the same thing as soon as you’re able. And as far as life being absurd goes, well, yes it is. It’s a farce really, just a little bit this side of a tragedy. But like I said, here is where we must simply pretend that it isn’t absurd. A brilliant Nobel Prize winner, an atheist of course makes the case for all of us atheists believing what he calls, “The Noble Lie.” That lie of course is that in an accidental universe there actually is meaning and purpose. I haven’t been able to pull it off but for that guy and Dawkins and a few others, apparently they’re able to believe such a thing. And don’t go accusing me of promising you happiness. Now THAT would be irrational. A wonderfully brilliant man whom I admire a lot, his name was Bertrand Russel, well, once he said, “We must build our lives on the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” He was such an awesome atheist! One of my heros. You see son, it can be no other way. If you live consistently according to the logical conclusion of our atheist belief system then you simply cannot be happy. Remember, it’s because I love you that I’m teaching you this belief system so that you’ll be resistant to all those Christian idiots who try to tell you that because of a guy named Jesus, you can have hope and joy and peace in your life just like they have in their lives. But that’s a lie - straight up. If you wish to be happy, then you cannot live consistently according to the logical conclusion of our atheist beliefs - the ones that your mother and I are teaching you. But if you’re serious about this, if you rebel against our indoctrination to live a brave life in the face of meaninglessness, well, what you do in that case is, you borrow meaning and value and purpose from the Christian’s belief system and claim it as your own. I’ll think that you’re an idiot if you do that, but because I’m so tolerant I’ll still tolerate you if you turn against our logic and reason. Simple enough. Now, you must run along as I have a large bowl movement approaching at a fantastic pace. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”

“You’re a really great dad. Thank you.”


Michael Edward Davis said...

You don't know whot you're talking about. How do you know what death is like on the other side? Have you been there? No? You take it all on faith in the accounts given of some 1st century jewish rebbe named Yeshua bar Yossef, the one you call Jesus the Christ. Do you also subscribe to the belief that the world is flat and surrounded by a vast ocean beyond which lies impenetrable mystery, or that the heavens are a vast dome upon which celestial objects move over a fixed and unmoving earth? Your characterization of a so-called atheist's dialogue with a child about death is an ad hominem argument. You set up "straw men," imbue them with the thoughts and views that YOU ascribe to atheists, humanists, naturalists, etc, and then knock them down. And this is supposed to be "rational discourse"? Your presentation is totally vacuous because you make no arguments whatsoever. You have nothing to offer but ridicule. Where, sir, is your PROOF?

Makarios said...

Hello Michael Edward Davis! Hower you doin? I see you're trying out all you new fanggled atheist terms like straw man, and ad hominem and all that. Good job!

So I wonder, what do you tell your children? Do you lie to them and tell them that "we don't know what happens after we die"? Or do you tell them what you really believe, in the absence of any empirical proof of course.

Michael Edward Davis said...

Oh, Makarios, I tell them the truth as best I'm able to discern it. If you'll check out the last paragraph of my post to one of your other bloggings, "Atheists run from Jesus," I think you'll pretty much get the picture of what I tell my children. Frankly, Makarios, that's about it.

Dan said...

Personally I am going to tell my child that nobody really knows what happens after death. I will tell her that there are various beliefs of what happens and then i will give her some examples from all over the world. I will NOT be mocking any particular belief as that is setting her up to be just one more bigot, racist and uneducated nationalist.

I will also tell her all about the only workable theory there is on where we came from and what happens to us when we die. Its called Darwins theory of natural selection. I will tell her how genes get passed on to the next generation and so a part of us never really dies.

When you mock another belief, remember that you are mocking a huge percentage (the majority in fact) of the worlds population that does not happen to subscribe to your version of faith.

Will you be telling your child that bit of information?

Jackie said...

I am really disappointed in your ignorant and very judgmental view of an atheist parent. This is exactly why Christians get a bad rap. Constantly judging, and hating. Is this what Jesus would have said? I will pray for your heart and mind to be opened and for you to see how these statements can push people away from the faith, instead of bring them closer.

Makarios said...

I was using the example of a ficticious (I thought that would be obvious) atheist parent to highlight the absurb nature of the atheist belief system ie. an accident has no meaning or purpose. I guess that was lost in the translation.

Makarios said...

Sorry, I had to go an put my kids to bed. I'm curious. Is there something in what I wrote that atheists really don't believe - you know, something that shows that I'm, like you said, ignorant of their beliefs? Because I've got to tell you, I skimmed through it again and as far as I can see everything that I wrote down comes from what I've heard or read from atheists on their blogs or in their books. Now of course, my presentation is admittedly confrontational. And apart from Him calling atheists "fools" I'm sure Jesus would have said this stuff in a much nicer way.

Have you actually changed atheist's minds by showing them how much you love them? Or if not you have you seen it work for others? That's not a challenge. I'm curious.

Dan said...

My friend. It is my 'belief' that if you are going to make a claim about a different way of seeing things you damn well better have done a little reading. One of the dumbest things a person can say about evolution is that it is based on an accident. Nobody believes that, it makes no sense and no atheist/agnostic would ever ever believe life is an accident. Frankly even reading a simple paragraph overview of the subject would give you at least that.
Now kindly point us all to the blogs and books that tell you this.

Next thing Im going to read you saying that we get our morals from religion.

Know also that many Christians also acknowledge evolution as the only workable theory available. You might also want to look up a few terms on how science uses the word 'theory' and also how they never use the word 'fact'. Science always tries to break a theory, that is why things get improved. A scientist is not afraid of being told they are wrong. It is part of the process of knowledge and understanding. It is why your medicine works!

Without this basic understanding (which differs a bit to the average person on the street) you will never grasp what these people are blogging about. Its called putting yourself in anothers shoes and walking around for a while. As a Christian for over seven years I have that point of comparison.

Look i dont think for a minute you will actually do any of this, i guess im just hoping others out there might get something from it.

John said...

Let's try this, for one atheist's ACTUAL account of talking about death with children:

"Straw man" and "ad hominem" have their roots in philosophical discourse, not atheism. Both apply to all sorts of things besides theistic arguments, so I'm not sure where you got the idea that they're "newfangled atheist terms", when in fact they're pretty dang oldfangled, and widely used outside of religious debates.

Atheists like to use these words a lot because they keep seeing examples of it. Is it wrong of them to point out their observations? And do you have no more substantive response than mere ridicule?

Onto your straw man atheist father - yes, it's a straw man, and here's a handful of reasons why:
* A person does completely cease to exist upon death. This is of course depending on how you define "person". Will you still be able to talk with them? No, and to imply otherwise is an awful lie. But personality, memories, quotes, humor, lifestyle, impact, these things all live on, and it is the only immortality anybody knows about. Those don't die, and it's not like atheists are oblivious to them.
* "Dying species in a dying universe"? Who the heck says that? "Dying species" - well, that only depends on the fate we make for ourselves. We could keep this little civilization going if can learn how to manage our resources. As for the rest, the universe is only 13.7 billion years old (give or take), and from what I glean from Wikipedia, is estimated to last for something like a googol (heh) more years. Moreover, if any atheist actually believed that, what are they doing in laboratories or on computers, pen in hand or culture in dish, trying to ascertain and dicuss the mysteries of said universe? How do you reconcile that plain fact with your notion that we're a bunch of depressed existentialists?
* That we're an accident is mostly right, but it's an accident like winning the lottery's an accident - it's a pretty friggin' sweet accident if you ask me!
* Ayn Rand, Camus, Hume, Sartre, and Monod, if they were all atheists (don't know - I've only read The Stranger, and didn't really get much out of it), may present a variety of philosophies which are atheistic, but adherence to their philosphies is by no means required to be an atheist. I much prefer Dawkins or Sagan or anyone else who advocates a combination of utter awe, joy, and skepticism. Sorry to burst your bubble.

Michael Edward Davis said...

Well, Makarios, I see you're getting some pretty good feedback from others who think you're somewhat off base on your original posting. By the way, where exactly did Jesus (Yeshua to me) say that atheists are fools? I believe that if you research that remark you'll find that it comes from the Psalms, and is actually a reference to "the wicked". Psalm 10is a good example, and I believe there are several others, but you can research that yourself. Yeshua never said anything at all about atheists or even implied that there was such a thing, although he did talk a great deal about "faith" and how it could save you, i.e., trusting in god, he apparently believed, and believing that one could do or receive the power to do great deeds, such as healing the sick, etc Those sorts of stories are well documented in the gospels. But there is never condemnation of atheists. In fact he says, "Judge not lest you be judged. For the measure by which you judge others shall be the measure by which you will be judged." Presumably by god, but that isn't entirely clear. Anyway, if we're going to quote scripture, at least quote it correctly. That Yeshua believed in an Abba, father god, however, in no way proves that such a god exists. It is merely another human way of relating to the universe one finds one's self in. And one that, upon closer and scientific analysis, unfortunately does not appear to hold up. Nice metaphor, even has the punishment aspect of fatherhood, i.e. bad things are the father's discipline toward us, but ultimately we find that bad things are simply things that we define as bad, often because they are unhealthy for our personal survival. There is no evidence whatsoever that the universe, or anyone or thing behind it, cares one way or the other whether we survive, or are happy, or prosper, and so forth. All concepts of god or gods fail when compared to the observable reality of the universe. If there is purpose and causality there, it is not obvious. Indeed, as one physicist said some time back, the universe is not at all good for life as we know it, but appears to be especially good at producing black holes, judging by their apparent abundance and general overall size.

Anyway, I'm glad to see that there are others like me that question your view of things. Gives me a little heart to know that, not that I didn't before. The views that we atheists, humanists, naturalists, etc espouse are actually fairly common, especially among the most educated of the world's population. Perhaps 20% of the people in the world espouse something like that. Please don't discount us. We have rights, too, and deserve to be treated with the same respect as everyone else should be. Indeed, respect for others and appreciation of their differences from one's self is the hallmark of an enlightened and tolerant individual. Are not truth and human dignity more important than ideologies? I think so.

Michael Edward Davis said...

Well, yes, your understanding of evolution, as pointed out in previous posts here, is woefully inadequate. Evolution is the conservation of chance variations that occur naturally in large populations. Those that are beneficial to the survival of organisms survive and go on to propagate themselves. Those that are not tend to die out, or at least do not spread as rapidly through a population, because they are deleterious or neutral in their effects on suvival. But there are other aspects to life here on Earth that have chance aspects, like NOT winning the lottery, as it were. Things like the collision of asteroids and the eruption of super volcanoes, or even global warming, although the jury's still out on that one, we don't know exactly how it'll turn out, but the probable forseen consequences are not encouraging. In other words, Makarios, as the expression goes, "Shit happens." And life goes on as best it's able. We, and, to a much lesser extent, the anthropoid apes and our own anthropoid ape-like progenitors, are, in so far as we know, the only species on Earth that has ever evolved any capacity whatsoever for reflection on all of this. Was it a given, had to happen? Probably not, but possibly so, but again that would only prove that there is some natural impulse in evolution toward consciousness. Indeed, cephalization or the increasing development of the head, in vertebrates, appears to be such a phenomenon. But is there evidence for design. No. Evolution cobbles together whatever is marginally workable for survival from whatever genetic fragments it can find, said fragments being merely those populations that have managed to SURVIVE and propagate themselved through time and history. (Please pardon my anthropomorphization of evolution, as if it were a person. I use it only a a metaphor.) Nowhere is there evidence of design, but, rather, quite the contrary. Ridiculous and inefficient biological constructions, like the optic nerve being "installed" backward, strongly suggest this. Order of a dynamic sort exists, because we live in a more or less closed system here on Earth with continuous energy input from the sun, but as to evidence for purposeful, conscious design by agency, as exhibited by human behaviour, there is none.

Michael Edward Davis said...

So you see, we are not "accidental" and, of course, we have human purpose, whatever our individual takes on it. So your portrayal of atheists believing this is incorrect, and, as you said previously, confrontational, which I believe was your whole purpose in saying it in the first place. If you're truly interested in meaningful dialogue, please be respectful of others, educate yourself on the things you "think" you understand. A good start would be to stop ridiculing that which you don't understand and LISTEN to what is being said. That is how rational dialogue proceeds. I do not have all the answers, and it accomplishes nothing. Like your post about "Guess Who is appearing at the Democratic National Convention?" You parody people wthout making any effort to understand them, you totally distort their views and what they stand for because you probably aren't really interested in hearing anything that differs from your ideology (ARE YOU?) Don't patronize me, and don't denigrate me. I was a christian most of my adult life, with grave misgivings about the orthodoxies I received from adolescence onward. Indeed, I have a degree in religious studies have extensively studied the old testament prophets (neviim to jews), buddhism, mysticism and kabbala, monasticism, psychology of relgious experience. I was also once upon a time an honors pre med student at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, and have an extensive educational background in natural sciences. Does this make me "special, deserving of your attention"? No. Actually all of that and about a $1.79 will get me a vente cup of coffee at Starbuck's (if I could actually afford such;actually I drink the cheapo stuff brewed at home). My point is, you don't need to be deliberately inflammatory. Back your postings up with legitimate observations and ask genuine questions. You may learn something. I know I have.

Jackie said...

It isn't your job to judge them, or to "expose" them to the rest of the world. Your post is just another example of intolerance. Our job is not to "turn" them to our side, it is to lead by example. You are exactly the kind of individual that makes people run from Christ.

Makarios said...

Abiogenesis Dan, the universe is an accident - according to atheist theory. I didn’t say anything about natural selection. Or are you suggesting that matter had some sort of plan in mind when it brought itself into being?