Thursday, March 5, 2009


Recently, as I was driving the little clowncars home, one of them asked from the back seat, "Daddy, what is heaven?"

I've been dreading this talk. The sex talk I'm fine with. I'm pretty sure that more information about sex is going to be good for them. Say the wrong thing about heaven and hell, though, and I fear some serious warpage may occur.

Religion they're being introduced to. Lil Hux has been taking them to a nice, calm, so-reasonable-it's-barely-religious Unitarian church lately (I stay home and write and make a big Sunday lunch). And they learn about all the religions there, in a very general sense, and that's all good.

But what to say about heaven, specifically, has bothered me.

So when they asked, I thought "it's showtime" and defaulted to the truth.

I said most people believed in heaven. But their Mom and Dad did not. They could decide for themselves.

I said heaven was a place you went when you died (I didn't bring hell into the mix, nor will I, ever). Where everyone was happy all the time, and you could do your favorite things all day long. But that the best thing about heaven was that people you loved who died lived there. So you can be with the people you loved forever.

I said I didn't believe in it, but that people who did, did so because it made them feel better about people they loved dying. I started to go into my whole we're-all-made-of-stars brand of animism, but I clearly lost them 10 words into it, so I let it go. I'll pick up that thread another day.

I asked them if they believed in heaven. Youngest said she did, of course, and immediately populated heaven with unicorns and kitties and golf (we were driving past a golf course at the time). She'll be fine. I think of her as a "unicornitarian."

Oldest stayed noticeably silent.

Religion on one side. Nothingness on the other.

We shall see where all this goes.


Eric Shonkwiler said...

Interesting how it's place that comes up. Where, rather than who.

I think you handled it well.

Anonymous said...

I think you approached that very rationally. It's a good way to touch on the topic (as is the UU church, I think).

I don't remember ever having these discussions with my parents. Granted, my household was blatantly areligious. At a young age I went to church sometimes with family friends, but even by that point, I had already dismissed religion in my mind as hokey.

Still, you'd be surprised how much this will change over time. Right now you have a unicornitarian and a silent girl, but over their lives they'll come into contact with a lot of people and places. You're giving them a good basis for forming their own opinions, it seems. My parents raised me and my sister in a rather atheistic (or at least agnostic) household. My sister is now devoutly Christian, where I consider myself an atheist (and laugh about it regularly). There are a lot of things you can't plan for.

Victoria Gothic said...

That's cute. "Unicornitarian." My up bringing and childhood, I had a heaven concept, so no matter where my mind goes from there, it can't help but try and drift back to something along those lines. Its strange, seeing how your mind is sometimes hardwired. But I think I continue to grasp the concept of an afterlife or reincarnation for one simple reason- the idea of "dying dying" i.e. "no longer existing" utterly and completely terrifies me. Despite the fact that I recognize I would no longer exist to cognate that fear, the idea of going into that nothingness and that being the end is a terrifying thought for me.

Noel said...

I think you handled it well. More so than I did when my niece asked me. My sister doesn't want to subject the kids to Catholic school--which my parents subjected my sister and I to for 13 years (including kindergarten--it left us very jaded and pessimistic).
My sister still believes where I do not.
I told my niece that heaven is a state of mind. Like when she gets focused when she plays video games or when I'm trying to read and ignore people. But this state of mind is really relaxed, like when you wake up from a nice restful sleep.

This set off a whole series of questions that she then started to ask my sister, which now my sister hates me for.

meno said...

We joke at our house about "Born Again Unitarians."

You told your truth to them. Nothing else you can do.

Rudi said...

I think we are all secretly afraid our children will become more religious than we are.

Hold a greater faith in someone/something that is not us that gave them life.

Rudi said...

On the subject of Unitarians: You should be very wary of the whole interaction...

There might well be some "insanely" reasonable, likable, helpful, intelligent, nurturing people there. :-)

Years ago my wife started to take our kids to the local UU Church. I stayed home, cleaned and made lunch. I didn't want or need Church.

The kids liked it. They got involved.

One day I was asked to help setup tables and chairs for an event. Sure. I was happy to help. Long story short: I'm a regular there now. Never thought it would happen to me.

Irrelephant said...

Well played, old bean. Straight truth as Dad sees it. I had to break out of a childhood populated by Limbo and Beasts with Seven Horns and Whores of Babylon and all that Catholic stuff before I could think for myself and realise that Heaven is just an excuse not to think too hard about the fact that, some day, some way, your life is going to stop.

You done good.

Clowncar said...

Eric, I think "where" is an easier concept to grab onto than "who." Littlest asked me this weekend if Barbie was "alive." So "who" is still a little problematic.

Bliss, that's very funny about your sister. I was raised strongly Baptist and watched my parents go from Baptist to agnostic. Which may explain why I'm an atheist than spends an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking about religion.

Hey, Vic, you hit the nail on the head. That utter terror of nothingness is at the core of all of this.

Yikes, Noel. I have several relatives who would burn me at the stake for telling their kids that heaven was "a state of mind." Highly charged subject. We've gotten chastised for not praying at the dinner table.

"Born Again Unitarian" is pretty funny, Meno.

That's a really interesting comment, Rudi - my wife and I discussed that one for awhile. I think my fear, though, is that I'll traumatize them with the whole after-you-die-there-is-only-nothingness scenario. I just can't bring myself to tell them about heaven when I don't believe in it.

That Catholic stuff is so strange to me, Irr. I went to a Catholic wedding once, with all the trappings, and it was like watching Spock getting married on Star Trek. All weird rituals I didn't understand.