Monday, April 12, 2010

Growing in Reason: Talking to Children About Unbelief

One thing in my life that excites me is the native intelligence of my children. For example, just this weekend my older daughter lost a tooth, her third or fourth. That night, she put her tooth under her pillow for the tooth fairy. Next morning, she found one dollar. Later on, she suggested that she thought maybe Mommy or me had been giving her money for the teeth. I told her the truth, and she seemed happy to have figured it out first.

One day, maybe soon, she'll want to talk to me about God. She'll ask why I don't believe in God. What will I tell her?

(1) "Believe in God" is the wrong expression. I believe in you. I don't believe that God exists.

(2) You've gone to temple/church/whatever. You have seen people you know and love who pray to God as if He really existed. You have been told stories that are presented as true, as if they really happened. But the fact is that no one knows whether God truly exists. The stories started a long time ago and they have undergone many changes. Many people believe the stories because they believe what they are told by others whom they love and respect. Many people like all the friends they have in the group of believers. Many people like the idea that even when they are alone, they can have someone who sees them and is interested in what they do. But what people like and what's true are not always the same thing. People may want the stories to be true, but that does not mean they are true.

(3) There are many, many religions. There are also many, many gods. Most every group that's ever been has tried to explain the world by using gods to be responsible for the things that came before. Our planet and our universe are wonderful things, and it's not easy to discover how they got to be the way they are. Every religion thinks that its god is the answer and that all the other religions are wrong.

(4) We are learning so much about the universe, the world, and humanity. We use scientific methods to help us separate what might really be true from what we think might be true. And the more we learn, the more wonderful it all seems. On the other hand, with everything we learn, it becomes less likely that God really exists. No God and no heaven, but no devil and no hell either.

(5) We have each other. We have our lives together. We have our minds. We have our dreams. All of this is real enough. We talk to each other and we talk to ourselves. We laugh and we share. We sing and we learn. Why wonder about God when our lives are already filled with wonder?

(6) You are my child and I am your father. This is always true, no matter what you or I believe about God/no-God. As we live, learn, change, and move on, we'll think many things. We'll believe many things. We'll settle matters and then later overturn them. But you are always my child and I am always your father. This is one true thing, and that's all we need to build happy lives.


  1. "But you are always my child and I am always your father. This is one true thing, and that's all we need to build happy lives"

    No, one day you will die and will not be longer your father or your child.

  2. I will die someday, true enough. I don't think this fact has any bearing on the fact that my child has inherited some of my genes. I also don't think it affects the time we have spent together so far as father and daughter.

    We're I to die sooner rather than later, I hope my daughter would continue to live happily and remember how much I enjoyed being her father.

  3. And, I know fathers that molestd his childs, killed his childs, beated his childs, abbandoned his childs. How are you sure you are not going ever that to your child?

  4. I don't know any fathers like that, except from the news.

    My father is a wonderful man. A real mensch. My maternal grandfather, dead now 20 years, is someone I remember fondly to this day. My two brothers are great guys: I think the world of them. I am also fortunate to have great in-laws. And I live in a nice town, in a great neighborhood, with a fantastic school system.

    So, I hope that my genetics, upbringing, role models and family/social support all converge to help me (continue to) be a positive and supportive influence to all my children, as well as to all my loved ones.

  5. Many of that guys have the same situation that you, and no matter they did it. Are you sure that you are not going to do that? Or are only reasonably hoping that?

  6. Blas,

    I don't know what I'm doing tonight, let alone over the course of the childhood/adolescence of my offspring.

    If I ever beat any or all of my children, I'll be sure to let you know. Otherwise, just assume we're doing awesome.

  7. Thanks Larry, this is quite good and helps with current conversations with my kids.

  8. Bias, I suggest 5mg haldol.


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