Sunday, March 13, 2011

What do atheists tell their children?

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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48 comments:

Tim O'Neill said...

A conversation with my rather bright four year old nephew last summer:

Him: So what happens to me after I die.

Me: No-one really knows. Some people think there's another life than never ends.

Him: *thinks* Where?

Me: They don't really know. They say it's different to here. Nicer.

Him: *unconvinced* What do you think Uncle Tim?

Me: Well, I don't really know, but I think that idea is just them wishing for something they'd like to be true. I think when we die we just stop.

Him: *thinks* Like before I was born?

Me: Yes, like that. One day you didn't exist, then you were born, now you live, then you die, then you don't exist again. It's the bit in the middle that's important.

Him: *satisfied* When are we going to to go fishing?

Not so hard actually James. It's always struck me as odd that people who claim to be so perplexed by the concept of their non-existence after life are so utterly blasé about their equal non-existence before it. They are the same thing as far as I can see and I'm pretty unconcerned about either.

James said...

Hi Tim,

Was you nephew is great distress about his non-existence? Doesn't sound like it which suggests to me he didn't "get it". I'm not sure you do either.

And believe me, that is a blessing. Just ask my daughter.

Tim O'Neill said...

which suggests to me he didn't "get it".

As I said, he's a bright kid. Thanks to a wise old uncle and perhaps a genetic propensity towards thinking objectively, he grasped that there is nothing much there to "get".

I'm not sure you do either.


I "get" that non-existence after death is about as scary as non-existence before life. I'm sure you don't lie awake at night in a cold sweat over the fact you didn't exist before you were born. I can't see why I should do so over the fact I won't exist after I die.

The universe did just fine without Tim O'Neill for several billion years before 1967 AD and will do just fine without me after I die. As I said to my nephew, it's the bit in the middle that matters to us.

Then we went fishing. It was a beautiful day.

TheOFloinn said...

I'm sure you don't lie awake at night in a cold sweat over the fact you didn't exist before you were born. I can't see why I should do so over the fact I won't exist after I die.

Ooh! Ooh! I know! I know! It's because time only runs in one direction.

Tim O'Neill said...

Ooh! Ooh! I know! I know! It's because time only runs in one direction.

*considers that for a moment* Nope - I'm still no more afraid of future non-existence than I am of past non-existence. They feel exactly the same to me.

TheOFloinn said...

I spoke dicacis. However, you had asked why anyone would regard with dread fascination a future event while not so regarding a past event, not whether you yourself were indifferent or numb to the matter (or feared it or looked forward to it, as the case may be).

But we live life going forward. It is reasonable to worry over getting mugged tomorrow. It is not reasonable to worry over getting mugged yesterday.

It is natural for living things to go on living. A petunia would rather be than not be, and will drive its roots deep in search of water and nutrients. But it is not natural for things that do not exist to look forward to their existence. In fact, since they don't exist, they can't do diddly squat.

IOW, regardless whether a part of us persists after bodily death or not, the argument that is is "like" our nonexistence before birth is not pertinent. At one time the giant statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan did not exist, so there was no reason to worry about the Taliban blowing them up. The universe got along fine without them for billions of years.

Tim O'Neill said...

At one time the giant statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan did not exist, so there was no reason to worry about the Taliban blowing them up. The universe got along fine without them for billions of years.

The difference being that it wasn't inevitable that the Taliban would blow them up, but it is inevitable that I will die. So what made the destruction of the Bamiyan statues regretable is that it didn't have to happen.

My death, however, does have to happen. I still can't see why my non-existence after my life should be any more bothersome to me than my non-existence before it. Neither bother me at all.

There was an old oak tree near where I grew up. Recently I drove past it and found it had been cut down - apparently it got some kind of rot and died. I spend about as much time wondering if that oak went to a tree afterlife where it lives eternally as a firm young sapling in an everlasting spring morning as I wonder whether I will do something similar when I die.

I can't see the attraction of vieiwing our current lives as some kind of small, grubby, unsatisfying antechamber to something bigger and nicer. I prefer to treat it as what it seems to be - all we have.

Chris said...

I don't know. The fact that death is inevitable can make it even more terrifying. With most bad things in life, there's usually something you can do to avoid them or at least minimize the harm that will happen. You can't do that with death, and as a kid, the prospect of being completely helpless in the face of death is not a pleasant one.
-CaptainZman

Anonymous said...

Good Day Tim,

There is a very interesting and subtle argument contra atheism buried within your first comment.

Initially, when speaking to your nephew, you essentially state that you think that other individuals believe in an afterlife for "wish fulfillment" reasons. But then later, as an atheist, you state that you believe that there is actually nothing to fear from one's future non-existence. Being just like before you were born, it is nothing to be afraid of. This, furthermore, is a sentiment shared by many other atheists.

Now I happen to agree with you and other atheists that there is nothing to fear from non-existence, if this is what is actually coming. But this raises a very interesting argument (or something that could be formulated into an formal argument in the future):

If we have nothing to fear from non-existence, as atheists assert, but if we DO have a great deal to fear from being judged by a just and mighty deity who knows our deepest and darkest secrets (and we do indeed have a reason to fear this), then it is arguably the atheist who is engaging in "wish fulfillment" here. It is the atheist who is believing that which is easy, nice and desired by him. It is the atheist who is potentially using denial as a means of covering that which he does not want to face. And, to use your own words, but with a different twist, "I think that the idea of non-existence is just atheists wishing for something they'd like to be true."

Therefore, if anything, it is the atheist who is guilty of wish fulfillment, not the religious believer.

Take care,

RD Miksa
rdmiksa.blogspot.com

Duke of Earl said...

I would say it's not an argument against atheism per se. It's a response specifically to the atheistic claim that the religious believer is engaging in wishful thinking.

Obviously the religious believer may find belief in God comforting, however to attempt to discredit a religious belief based on that is an example of the genetic fallacy. (there's a certain atheist populist who doesn't seem to know any other sort of argument *cough J L cough*) Likewise it may be comforting to the atheist to believe that after death they simply cease to exist but that doesn't discredit atheism for the same reason.

However to say it applies to one, but not the other is probably special pleading.

Tim O'Neill said...

Therefore, if anything, it is the atheist who is guilty of wish fulfillment, not the religious believer.

What I said was that thought belief in an afterlife was wishful thinking. After all, there is zero unambiguous evidence that any such thing exists.

Given that there is zero evidence for it, the idea that there is nothing but oblivion after death is simply accepting that this seems most likely to be the case. It's hardly "wishful thinking". ust facing what seem to be the facts.

And I don't accept that I dismiss the idea of your particular afterlife - the one with the totalitarian dictator deity and his eternal concentration camp - because it find it easy or convenient to do so. I do so because I consider that idea to be obviously absurd, primitive crap. Not to mention repugnant.

Russell said...

Given that there is zero evidence for it, the idea that there is nothing but oblivion after death is simply accepting that this seems most likely to be the case.

Reports of ghosts, Near Death Experiences, past-lives cases, hardly what I would consider no evidence.

the one with the totalitarian dictator deity and his eternal concentration camp

I think somebody could easily make a claim on that statement alone that atheism is wish fulfillment for you Tim. I mean, if you view God as a totalitarian dictator watching and judging your every move and finding you lacking or that you are liable to become a guest of said concentration camp, I can see why it would be more pleasant for you to view the idea as absurd, primitive crap.

Russell said...

Given that there is zero evidence for it, the idea that there is nothing but oblivion after death is simply accepting that this seems most likely to be the case.

Reports of ghosts, Near Death Experiences, past-lives cases, hardly what I would consider no evidence.

the one with the totalitarian dictator deity and his eternal concentration camp

I think somebody could easily make a claim on that statement alone that atheism is wish fulfillment for you Tim. I mean, if you view God as a totalitarian dictator watching and judging your every move and finding you lacking or that you are liable to become a guest of said concentration camp, I can see why it would be more pleasant for you to view the idea as absurd, primitive crap.

Tim O'Neill said...

Reports of ghosts, Near Death Experiences, past-lives cases, hardly what I would consider no evidence.

Notice how I was careful to say "zero unambiguous evidence" earlier?

I can see why it would be more pleasant for you to view the idea as absurd, primitive crap.

Then you'll just have to take my word for it that I don't regard it as silly, primative superstition merely because it's more "pleasant" for me to do so. Even back when I still believed in God I found the idea that such a being would be so petty as to act as some kind of cosmic hall monitor totally absurd.

Tim O'Neill said...

BTW, if people want to bring the kind of afterlife where your “God” judges and punishes into the discussion, I recall my Catholic childhood where I spent quite a bit of time genuinely distressed about the chance of burning in hell for missing a “Holy Day of Obligation” or for receiving the Eucharist with an unconfessed sin on my conscience (masturbation no less - something eternal cosmic creator deities concern themselves with greatly, apparently).

So if we’re asking “What do xxxs tell their children?” I’d say telling them they are made of atoms born in the hearts of stars and that when they die their consciousness ends and their bodies return to the cosmos is rather nicer (and more reasonable) than telling them that when they die they might be tortured for all eternity for touching their penis.

Andrew Brew said...

Come now, Tim. I know that you are smart enough to know that the idea of the "cosmic hall monitor" who tortures you for all enternity for touching your penis is emphatically NOT the God of Christian theology. That's not to say you won't find someone who both self-identifies as Christian and takes that view. Apparently you met some as a lad (or did you, perhaps, misunderstand or mischaracterise them??).

To reject a claim that is not made (by Christianity, in this case), and then to treat that rejection as if it deals with the claims that *are* made, is of course silly, and not worthy of you.

You must know, too, that Christian ideas of the afterlife are not speculations based on ghost stories. Such stories are pretty universal, but most cultures (including the pre-Christian Jews) did not make much of them in terms of afterlife-belief.

When the doctrines of eternal life and of Heaven emerge quite suddenly in the first century, it is because it is taught pretty explicitly (although with very little detail) by Jesus and the apostles. The notion of judgment had long been there in Jewish teaching, but it had not been seen as a prelude to a blessed (or otherwise) afterlife. Jesus hints at a connection between judgement and reward, but again doesn't give much in the way of detail. The modern popular (as opposed to theological) notion of judgement and being sent to Heaven or Hell probably owes more to Greece and Egypt than to any Dominical or Apostolic saying. Is that, perhaps, where the "absurd, primitive crap" comes from?

I suggest that Christian belief in Heaven is based squarely on revelation (and therefore dependent on the believer's acceptance of revelation) rather than on "evidence" from which we deduce how things must be. Having said that, once the relevation is accepted other things like ghost stories, NDEs, etc. surely constitute hints that we have not yet covered all the ground, and to that extent tend to support the revelation rather than refute it. As you say, all very ambiguous. The revelation isn't, though, and that is the foundation of the doctrine.

TheOFloinn said...

Notice how I was careful to say "zero unambiguous evidence"

This is generally true. Through any finite set of data one can always draw multiple theories. The meaning of a datum depends on the theory you bring to the act of observation, indeed to the choice to make this observation rather than that. E.g., Xenophanes conclusion from marine fossils in the mountains of Greece; or Archimedes conclusion from the lack of visible stellar parallax.

But this might be a topic in its own right. We digress.

back when I still believed in God I found the idea that such a being would be so petty as to act as some kind of cosmic hall monitor totally absurd.

You'll be glad to know you are congruent with Catholic and Orthodox doctrine in this regard.

Tim O'Neill said...

I know that you are smart enough to know that the idea of the "cosmic hall monitor" who tortures you for all enternity for touching your penis is emphatically NOT the God of Christian theology.

Yes, Andy. But it emphatically IS the God that was presented to a certain precocious ginger-headed kid at Our Lady of Lourdes school in north-western Tasmania in the 1970s.

We were talking about what people tell children. I was far from the only child told about that God in no uncertain terms. And I'm far from the only one who went through some distress over it.

tom said...

being concerned about one's self not extending over the entire dimension of time when one isn't concerned about their self not extending over all of any of the dimensions of space is highly irrational.

Russell said...

Notice how I was careful to say "zero unambiguous evidence" earlier?

And we have zero unambiguous evidence that the conversation with your nephew really happened. By the way, since when did unambiguous mean false?

Then you'll just have to take my word for it that I don't regard it as silly, primative superstition merely because it's more "pleasant" for me to do so.

But I just find it kind of odd that you would claim that it isn't more pleasant for you to be an atheist after describing God as some omnipotent Hitler ('totalitarian dictator, eternal concentration camp'). I mean most people when asked whither they found it more preferable to believe somebody like Hitler was running the show or not they would say the latter.

Even back when I still believed in God I found the idea that such a being would be so petty as to act as some kind of cosmic hall monitor totally absurd....to a certain precocious ginger-headed kid at Our Lady of Lourdes school in north-western Tasmania in the 1970s.

So you had bad teachers and didn't like your school therefore you're an atheist; despite agreeing with Andrew about the Christian concept of God? But then again you believe NOTHING + NOTHING = SOMETHING so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.

Per said...

You are heartless, a teenager says to the local newspaper today, speaking about death.

Death is not just incredibly nasty. Death has taken much happiness away, and brings sorrow, and one of the last words is: I hate you.

Noons said...

I hope I get the last word here...

Whatever you believe about death, the afterlife is a testable, verifiable, and falsifiable hypothesis. In fact, it is the most testable hypothesis ever cocieved because we will all test it whether we want to or not.

Can anyone come up with something more profound?

Tim O'Neill said...

Very true.

By the way, since when did unambiguous mean false?

Never, as far as I can tell. I've certainly never used it that way. That meaning doesn't even make sense in the sentence I used. Odd question ...

So you had bad teachers and didn't like your school therefore you're an atheist

No, I had perfectly orthodox teachers who stuck to the official Catechism with the rigidity of ... well, Catholic nuns. And I loved my school. In fact, I loved being a Christian.

It's just that many years later I worked out, with some sadness, that none of it was true.

Russell said...

After all, there is zero unambiguous evidence that any such thing exists.

Given that there is zero evidence for it, the idea that there is nothing but oblivion after death is simply accepting that this seems most likely to be the case.


How about there? How can you say there is zero unambiguous evidence for life after death and then in the next sentence say there is zero evidence period? To me that implies you used unambiguous to mean false.

And I loved my school. In fact, I loved being a Christian.

That statement strikes me as false when compared with:

And I'm far from the only one who went through some distress over it.

Anonymous said...

Arguing about someone's personal history is like arguing over what would happen if the Spetsnaz were fighting the Persians at Thermopolis.

You know who you are.

Tim O'Neill said...

How can you say there is zero unambiguous evidence for life after death and then in the next sentence say there is zero evidence period?

*Sigh* I thought using the word "ambiguous" once was enough and that no-one would be nit-picky enough to require me to qualify the word "evidence" again, since I had already made my point clearly by the first use of the words "ambiguous evidence". Looks like I was wrong about that.

That statement strikes me as false when compared with:

Concern about overstepping the many and complex lines regarding sin is part and parcel of even the happiest Catholic childhood. I'm sorry if you want me to have had an unhappy childhood, to have hated the Church and to have become a twisted, hate-filled atheist as a result, but I'm afraid I will have to continue to disappoint you. I had an idyllic childhood, loved the Church as was very happy as a Catholic Christian.

Right up to the point where I realised, with some regret, that I could no longer pretend it made any sense.

Andrew Brew said...

"We were talking about what people tell children."

Almost. James was talking, I think, about what our world view requires and/or allows us to tell children.

I don't know just what your teachers said to you, of course, but from your description what you got from it does not sound orthodox. As Russell says, you apparently had bad teachers - either they were teaching something that orthodox Christianity does not allow (let alone require), or (more likely, I assume, to be charitable) the teaching was unclear, and you misunderstood it.

Now that you know better, it seems a little unfair to continue to represent your childhood perception "that when they die they might be tortured for all eternity for touching their penis." as what Christians tell their children.

Russell said...

*Sigh* I thought using the word "ambiguous" once was enough and that no-one would be nit-picky enough to require me to qualify the word "evidence" again, since I had already made my point clearly by the first use of the words "ambiguous evidence". Looks like I was wrong about that.

Then why repeat the same thing twice and back-to-back at that (only the second time you delete an adjective)? That isn't exactly effective communication.

I'm sorry if you want me to have had an unhappy childhood, to have hated the Church and to have become a twisted, hate-filled atheist as a result, but I'm afraid I will have to continue to disappoint you.

I don't recall having said anything about you being twisted or hate-filled. I merely said that judging from your view of God as a dictator running an eternal concentration camp (your words, not mine) why atheism might function as a sort of wish fulfillment for you and that your word choice seemed to indicate that you didn't like your old teachers and school.

Now if I really wanted to be a dick about it I could point out that you saying you had an idyllic childhood, loved the Church as was very happy as a Catholic Christian is ambiguous evidence about the state of your childhood since it is your personal testimony and:

A) people who have unhappy childhoods don't tend to admit it

and

B) people claim to see ghosts and have memories of past lives so that shows how much personal testimonies are worth.

But insulting you is not why I commented, I was merely asking for clarification of your previous statements. So I will take you at your word that you had a happy childhood and that the conversation with your nephew really happened even though the evidence is ambiguous at best.

Tim O'Neill said...

it does not sound orthodox

It's straight from the Catechism Andy. Check Paragraphs 2181, 1857 and 1861 on missing Holy Days of Obligation. On receiving the Eucharist in mortal sin (eg having not confessed a sin despite having the opportunit to do so), see paragraph 1415. What I was taught was totally orthodox. Rigorously so.

Tim O'Neill said...

That isn't exactly effective communication.

As I said, I wasn't expecting this level of pointlessly pedantic snippyness from angry theists. I'll know better next time.

I don't recall having said anything about you being twisted or hate-filled

Well, you jumped to some erroneous conclusions about my childhood and schooling causing me to become an atheist regardless.

Now if I really wanted to be a dick about it I could point out that you saying you had an idyllic childhood, loved the Church as was very happy as a Catholic Christian is ambiguous evidence about the state of your childhood since it is your personal testimony

Yes, because what on earth would I know about my own childhood? Silly me. Clearly I know nothing about that topic and am certainly not some kind of expert on the matter. Some semi-anonymous blog commenter on the other side of the world is far more likely to be able to discern things about my childhood than I am.

So I will take you at your word that you had a happy childhood and that the conversation with your nephew really happened even though the evidence is ambiguous at best.

Less ambiguous than the evidence for afterlives. After all, we know that happy childhoods and avuncular conversations do exist, so my claims to have had both are pretty reasonable. This isn't the case for claims about supposed afterlives.

Russell said...

2181: The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.

1857: For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."

1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.

1415: Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.


Source: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/

Well it does say there are valid reasons for missing a Day of Obligation and they can talk to their pastor about it. It talks about even if you do miss it for a non-valid reason you have the option of repentance and God's forgiveness. And none of those verses talk about when they die they might be tortured for all eternity for touching their penis. I hate to be a bother Tim but could you provide the paragraph numbers for that? Thanks!

Russell said...

As I said, I wasn't expecting this level of pointlessly pedantic snippyness from angry theists. I'll know better next time.

I am not angry Tim. I am just trying to get you to clarify your statements and positions. I am sorry if this is a touchy subject for you but this is a public forum. We can always drop the discussion.

And it isn't exactly pointlessly pedantic snippyness since a lot of atheists use the 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence' cliche without defining what exactly is extraordinary claims or extraordinary evidence and instead merely use it as a rhetorical device to move the goal posts when it comes to standards of evidence. After all, you didn't exactly define what would constituent unambiguous evidence for the afterlife for you.

Well, you jumped to some erroneous conclusions about my childhood and schooling causing me to become an atheist regardless.

I merely read what you wrote. There are very few ways you can interpret I recall my Catholic childhood where I spent quite a bit of time genuinely distressed about the chance of burning in hell and I'm far from the only one who went through some distress over it.

Yes, because what on earth would I know about my own childhood...is far more likely to be able to discern things about my childhood than I am.

Never said I knew more about your childhood than you. I don't, that was my point. I am reliant on your testimony and I currently have no other way to corroborate it. For all I know you could be telling the truth or could be lying. All I know is that you getting awfully defensive and insulting on what was up to this point a fairly civil discussion.

After all, we know that happy childhoods and avuncular conversations do exist, so my claims to have had both are pretty reasonable. This isn't the case for claims about supposed afterlives.

And we know that unhappy childhoods exist and people lie, so it is can also be reasonable to doubt your claims. I am not trying to pick on you, just trying to point out that if somebody really wants to believe or not believe in something they can find reasons to do so.

On a related note, how can you claim to know what the case for the afterlives is when you say I spend about as much time wondering if that oak went to a tree afterlife where it lives eternally as a firm young sapling in an everlasting spring morning as I wonder whether I will do something similar when I die. That seems to imply that you don't think about it or really investigate the evidence for it?

Russell said...

As I said, I wasn't expecting this level of pointlessly pedantic snippyness from angry theists. I'll know better next time.

I am not angry Tim. I am just trying to get you to clarify your statements and positions. I am sorry if this is a touchy subject for you but this is a public forum. We can always drop the discussion.

And it isn't exactly pointlessly pedantic snippyness since a lot of atheists use the 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence' cliche without defining what exactly is extraordinary claims or extraordinary evidence and instead merely use it as a rhetorical device to move the goal posts when it comes to standards of evidence. After all, you didn't exactly define what would constituent unambiguous evidence for the afterlife for you.

Well, you jumped to some erroneous conclusions about my childhood and schooling causing me to become an atheist regardless.

I merely read what you wrote. There are very few ways you can interpret I recall my Catholic childhood where I spent quite a bit of time genuinely distressed about the chance of burning in hell and I'm far from the only one who went through some distress over it.

Yes, because what on earth would I know about my own childhood...is far more likely to be able to discern things about my childhood than I am.

Never said I knew more about your childhood than you. I don't, that was my point. I am reliant on your testimony and I currently have no other way to corroborate it. For all I know you could be telling the truth or could be lying. All I know is that you getting awfully defensive and insulting on what was up to this point a fairly civil discussion.

After all, we know that happy childhoods and avuncular conversations do exist, so my claims to have had both are pretty reasonable. This isn't the case for claims about supposed afterlives.

And we know that unhappy childhoods exist and people lie, so it is can also be reasonable to doubt your claims. I am not trying to pick on you, just trying to point out that if somebody really wants to believe or not believe in something they can find reasons to do so.

On a related note, how can you claim to know what the case for the afterlives is when you say I spend about as much time wondering if that oak went to a tree afterlife where it lives eternally as a firm young sapling in an everlasting spring morning as I wonder whether I will do something similar when I die. That seems to imply that you don't think about it or really investigate the evidence for it?

Anonymous said...

What in the world are you arguing about now?

Argue about this: Qadaffi vs. Charlie Sheen, no time limit.

RD Miksa said...

Hello Tim,

Not sure if you are still commenting or not, and I apologize for making a comment about something that you stated so early on in the Comments Thread, but I found this very interesting.

You said:

"I can't see the attraction of vieiwing our current lives as some kind of small, grubby, unsatisfying antechamber to something bigger and nicer. I prefer to treat it as what it seems to be - all we have."

I find this very interesing because, and maybe this is just me, but I do not believe that this has been the view of any religion, let alone Christianity. For this life, far from being small, grubby and unsatisfying, is the location of choice. This is the life where we choose what we want in the next, and thus it is in no way small or unimportant, but rather vital and critical. It is not small because it is so important. It is not grubby becuase it is so critical. And it is not unsatisfying because it is the place where we choose our ultimate satisfaction. So I think, in this particular case, your view is mistaken.

Take care,

Rados

Tim O'Neill said...

We can always drop the discussion.

Considering the way you are interpreting my every word in the most hilariously weird ways imaginable, picking at increasingly microscopic nits and, most importantly, have veered well and truly off topic and seem to be heading to the tagental horizon at high speed, I think I'll take that option.

Russell said...

Well, I disagree with that whole paragraph but since you wish the conversation dropped I shall not push the issue.

RD Miksa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RD Miksa said...

Good Day Tim,

I am not sure if you are still commenting or not, and I apologize for bringing something up from much earlier in the thread, but I found something that you said very interesting.

You said:

"I can't see the attraction of vieiwing our current lives as some kind of small, grubby, unsatisfying antechamber to something bigger and nicer."

I have to say, and this is obviously just my understanding, but I do not think that any religion, let alone Christianity, thinks of this life in the manner you state. Rather, this life is of the utmost criticality and importance, for it is the life where we are provided the opportunity to choose our ultimate fate; this life is the life of ultimate choice. As such, from a Christian perspective, this life is not small because so much rides on it. It is not grubby because it is actually so utterly critical. And it is not unsatisfying because it is the place that we choose which ultimate satisfaction we want. From a Christian perspective, this life is in no way small, grubby or unsatisfying, even if it is the lead-up to something greater. Just as a bachelor's life is in no way small or grubby in comparison to marriage--because it sets the groundwork for the type of marriage you will have--even though it is a preparation for marriage, neither is this life (from a Christian perspective) small in comparison to the afterlife.

So, in the end, I think that you are mistaken in your view on this particular matter.

Take care,

RD Miksa
rdmiksa.blogspot.com

Matko said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James said...

I've removed the last comment and also awarded it the Gibson Prize for the week.

Please can we stay civilised.

Anonymous said...

Atheists don't tell their children anything. They eat them.

Anonymous said...

This is a good question, and worth pondering. I don't have kids yet, but I will have to think hard about this question before I'm in a situation where I have a answer such a question from a child. Thank you. By the way, I'm agnostic, not atheist.

Anonymous said...

On another note, the historian Niall Ferguson is apparently telling millions of tv viewers that Christianity stifles scientific enquiry:
http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2011/03/17/the-channel-4-professor-is-wrong-nothing-in-christian-revelation-discourages-scientific-enquiry/

Brian said...

Uh, guys, masturbating is a grave sin. Yup.

Nate Winchester said...

How atheists raising children deal with the prospect of death is actually recounted in the book S*** my dad says, where the author talks about going through something similar when he was growing up and how his father (the atheist) dealt with it.

Tuppence Magazine said...

I love the way all of us apes have evolved over millions of years to such a higher state as to be able to construct such elaborately convoluted and in parts intelligent arguments with our brains made out of star dust. I feel privileged to be around to experience it. Maybe that's what I'll tell my kids; that they should make the most of it, that they should do all that they can to help others to make the most of their lives and that they should take care to ensure that their future generations have the best possible opportunities to make the most of their life.

But then I could easily be described as philosophically and morally rather vapid.

Anonymous said...

As an atheist child, I certainly experienced less distress thinking about my eventual death than a theist relative did over masturbation. As I understood it, there was nothing sad about eternal nothingness because I wouldn't be experiencing emotions like sadness. My parents never had to address anything like your child's concerns.