A couple of times in the last few weeks, my wife and I have been settling down to a DVD with the children tucked into bed, when our five-year-old daughter has come down in some distress. Thinking about her late great grandfathers (whom she has never met although she does know one surviving great grandmother), she had become very upset at the prospect of eternal death. I suspect all children have to face this at some point and as Christians, there are good and honest answers we can give to reassure her.
Discussing this after our daughter was peacefully asleep, my wife and I began to wonder what atheist parents do in these circumstances. As chance would have it, I got an email this week from someone who thought I was too hard on Richard Dawkins in my review of The God Delusion. In the review, I mentioned a friend who had had similar existential crises as a child and took them to her atheist father. He just admitted that we are ultimately all worm food. As you can imagine, this did little to assuage my friend’s fears and I doubt it would have made my daughter any happier either.
My correspondent said my friend’s father was a moron (although he is actually a university professor) and that, “Dawkins says life is about enjoying every moment and living life in a happy and fulfilling way. Isn't that good enough? Why does there need to be more?” Clearly this answer wouldn’t satisfy my daughter. If someone is afraid of death, it is rather pointless telling them just to enjoy life.
So, it seems to me that atheist parents can either tell their children, in the kindest way possible, that their fears are wholly justified and they just have to tough it out. Or they can lie. Neither prospect can be very appealing.
This is hardly an argument against atheism or even a criticism of it. Rather the reverse. We tend to think of modern atheism as philosophically and morally rather vapid, but sometimes it can be tough.
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