August 07, 2014

Atheist Mama: Talking to kids about heaven and hell can be tough



My younger son hasn't been exposed to religion. My older has.

This morning, that saw them playing together, and suddenly, my older is talking about heaven and hell, and the younger is asking questions.

So how do you handle that?

Growing up, we weren't spared the details of hell. Heres' a perspective from a Christian parent:
I will readily tell my kids that hell IS hard to understand, but that truth is not dependent on whether or not it makes sense to our human minds. If we accept all of the “joyful” parts of Christianity that we learn from the Bible, we have to accept the existence of hell as well – even if it is a very, very difficult thing to grasp. 
According to the blogger:
We frequently talk about the need for salvation and the fact that Jesus died so we can be forgiven and reconciled to God. But saved from what? Reconciled for what? Hell is the assumed other side of the coin that we outright avoid acknowledging much of the time. 
So what should we teach our kids? “If you believe in Jesus, you go to heaven, if you don’t, you go to the big fiery pit called hell where you suffer forever. The end.” Pass the dinner rolls. 
 I'm not a Christian (understatement much, I know). So I have opted not to instill in my children a longing for heaven or a fear of hell (because I don't believe in them, so that's a no brainer).

So how do I handle it?


Well, with questions--gentle, probing questions.

Me: What do you think heaven is?
Son: It's where our spirits go when we die.

Gentle, and probing, we go through what evidence there is for spirits, heaven, etc. I don't want to send him spiraling into a crisis of non-belief, so we work through it slowly, talking about how our bodies work.

Me: Did you know your feelings, your memories, your personality, is all in how your genes and electricity and chemicals in your body work together? That's what makes our bodies work.
Son: So our bodies are like electrical factories?
Me: Yeah, kind of.
Son: But electricity can go out.

I've considered a lot of different paths towards secular parenting, but I've settled on this: I seize any opportunity to just talk. No judgement, no pressure--just conversations about what different people believe and how things work.

I don't know in the long run if this is the best way, or the most efficient way, to combat indoctrination...or if it will even work.

But, it's parenting. That's what parenting is. You have a plan, and you try to follow it, but you don't know until you're done exactly how it is going to turn out.

And that's both the most terrifying...and the most fun part.

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