Tuesday, January 8, 2008

There's no Heaven (Imagine that?)

I was going to title this post "Imagine there's no heaven" but then, while that does evoke the song that comes to mind, it is somewhat innacurate for my purposes, because there is no heaven, so imagination only comes into play when one wants to say there is one.

How can I say there's no heaven? How can you say that the planet Vulcan, complete with Vulcans with pointy ears who are very logical, doesn't exist? How can you say Thor doesn't exist? Ok, I really don't want to get into that.

I write this because I wonder how to deal with this issue with my daughter and (soon-to-be) son. It is made more interesting by the fact that their atheist parents have them in a Christian daycare. Yes, it was the closest, best option for us (and cheapest as well). No, there is no stated requirement that we be Christians to use it - and they never asked. Come to think of it, when I was a child, I was in a Christian daycare/nursery school, probably for the same reasons - it was convenient and close and probably there aren't a lot of other good options. Which also makes me feel better about it, because I was not particularly brainwashed by the experience, likely because my parents did not reinforce it at home. (The religious thing, that is).

When my daughter directly asks me about things like heaven and hell, I'll tell her the truth - that they are mythological places, made up by humans for various reasons. And I'll tell her the truth about religion as well - for instance, that there may have been a real person named Jesus, but he was just a person, and that the true origin of Christianity as a force really owes much more to the letters written much later by someone who never met anyone named Jesus. (Peter, I think was his name, but I am terrible with names).

I want to teach her these things without really indoctrinating her or making her an outcast among the majority religious people out there. Everyone has their own mythology of sorts. I want to teach her that. Ultimately, I want to teach her to be a good person and show her that you don't need religion for that. But I don't want her to be combative with religious people - that helps no one. I think I'll tell her that she can be an example to them that atheists are not monsters. And I don't just want to tell her things authoritatively - I want her to think for herself - to see the process one can use to sift through ideas to see which are true and which are false, to see what history is true and what is legend or myth. So I don't really just want to tell her things straight out, I want to tell her, when asked, "how do you think we can figure that out?" That is a far better use of her brain than just stuffing it with myths or even truths that are given without source.

Getting back to the title of this post, I want her to feel ok with the idea that there is no heaven - pointing out that this just gives life more meaning because we only get one life. Pointing out that what we do matters because of that, because there are no second lives. And finally, pointing out that this is nothing to fear because the nothingness of non-existence after death is no worse than the nothingness of the entire age of the universe before you were born. Enjoy life, savor it, and don't waste it. That's what I want to teach my children. My daughter. I wonder how that will go.

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