Last Sunday, my six-year-old said to me that I wasn't going to heaven because I didn't believe in Jesus. She was upset at the thought of my not going to heaven, and maybe even a bit perturbed at me. I think she sees me as being rather difficult. I sensed why she was upset: she and I (and Mommy and the rest of the family) wouldn't be together in heaven. To her, both my Jewish roots and my atheism meant absolutely that we would be apart. Such a horrible thought for a young girl to have to bear.
Being the director that she is, the poor child was adamant that I had to change my mind and accept Jesus. She gave me five days. Of course, I was too bull-headed to see that she didn't need an argument, and that's just what I gave her. Bad parenting by me.
But one has to consider the supposedly ethical and valuable teachings of religion and wonder if there are any ethics or value in there at all. Why promise a little girl this magical land (for some) after we die? Why coerce her into believing with an afterlife? Why poison her against disbelief?
My wife and I contacted our daughter's Sunday school teacher, just to find out what he'd taught that day so we could sort out what was taught and what was our girl's reasoning. Now, this teacher is a genuinely good and decent person. But he sent three rather raving emails about how he wasn't trying to teach about rewards and consequences for believing, how he respects Judaism, and how he wanted me to be comfortable with the church.
I know he meant well, but the basic yet unspoken message was, "Well, yes, of course you'll spend eternity in hell if you don't repent, but we're not going to say that outright and, who knows, maybe one day you'll be so impressed with how good and decent we are and decide that this is a good enough reason to become a believer yourself."
No, I won't spend eternity in hell. There is no hell. I've looked into matters enough to be satisfied that my conclusion is probably right. There's no heaven and no purgatory either. Also, I'm certainly not going to be bullied into believing some cockamamie story of gods on earth who demand that you believe they really are gods on earth. These folks don't realize that I have concluded that atheism probably best portrays the true state of affairs in the universe. There's no reason they should have known this, but because they didn't their sincere attempts to bridge the gap between their Jesus lunacy and Jewish lunacy came off rather ridiculous to me.
My wife and I spoke to the girl. I told her that it was OK for people not to believe. Indeed, she may decide later that the truth is something very different than what she thinks it is right now. I told her that mommy's beliefs had changed, which was true. I told her that Mommy and I loved each other because we had different beliefs - this was part of what made our relationship special. Mainly, I tried to tell our daughter that she didn't need to worry about heaven for me or anyone else.
My wife, good believer that she is, tried to give the message that god was in control, therefore the girl shouldn't worry about who was going to heaven and hell. Obviously, I think that whole "god is in control, not us" is a loser philosophy and doesn't really make sense for our daughter's situation. My daughter has acted perfectly rationally to try to inspire me to belief. These people are told that they should share their glassy-eyed appreciation of the magic Hebrew. My girl is quick and logical. I wouldn't blame her if she were troubled by the contradictory messages.
One bright spot is that I did get to talk to my daughter about evolution, how about the world came to be, and how life might have arisen. I am not sure if my wife sees it, but even though my daughter is passionate about her belief in Jesus right now, the more she learns about the world and the more we talk together, the far greater likelihood is that our girl will realize that religion is made up and incoherent.
And let us say, amen.