While eating supper with my parents and my seven-year-old son a few days ago I got to talking about the screenplay I'm working on (MARLENE THE DIVINE), in which God is a deliciously-plump black woman who kidnaps a vengeful ex-lawyer and drags him on a road trip across America.
Before bed that night my son said to me, "Dad, what if God isn't real, and what if people just make him up because they want him to be real?"
I mean, not the first hard question he'd ever asked, but daaang—that's a tricky one.
I'm his dad, which means it's my job to help protect him from painful things. For example, I don't have the slightest problem with turning down the volume on news-radio when they start reporting on some of the more grisly things that people do to each other (rape, for example, or brutal murder). And existential anxiety is definitely painful, so you'd think I would want to turn that dial down as fast as possible. I also happen to believe in God (as much as I can... today), so it's not like I'd be betraying what I think about the existence of God if I were to say something like, "Well, son, that's just not the case—now go run around the house until you forget the question."
On the other hand, I don't think even partial dishonesty is good parenting, and pretending like questions don't exist is never going to make them go away.
So this is what I said, when my Son asked me if God was make-believe:
"Well if that was the case, then in my opinion it would be hard to explain where everything all comes from, wouldn't it?"
My son nodded.
I added, "There are definitely a number of people who don't believe in God, though, and those people come up with other explanations for where everything comes from. But from my perspective, I don't find their arguments all that convincing. And I do believe in God."
He nodded again. He's a smart, thoughtful kid, and I think he got it.
And I think I really did do the right thing—allowing honest, epistemological doubt to enter into our ongoing conversation about the Divine.
I also understand why most people don't do this. Because uncertainty is scary, and it's easier to just circle the thought-wagons and shoot at any ideas that don't quite fit. And I know it's not just People of Faith who do this... I guarantee you there are Atheists out there who meet their kids' questions with absolute certainty in the other direction, pretending to capital "K" know what they cannot ever know, and throwing in a few jabs at anybody who thinks differently while they're at it.
But kids can SMELL lies.
They can smell intellectual dishonesty, and every time you tell them a little white lie, they store that away in their brains under the subheading "Reasons Why Dad Can't Be Trusted."
I don't want that for my relationship with my son.
And even if you're deciding to lie to your kid out of fear that they'll be damned to what I've come to see as a misconstrued fiction like Hell (at least, in the sense in which it's often taught), I doubt you do, either.
So stop lying about God to your kids.
Tell them the truth, and let God take care of the rest.
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