I have 22 posts jostling for attention at the moment, but a Saturday night conversation with my girls has sent all other topics back to the green room for a smoke.
The three of us were laying on my bed, looking at the ceiling and talking about the day. "Dad, I have to tell you a thing. Promise you won’t get mad," said Delaney (6), giving me the blinky doe eyes. "Promise?"

"Oh jeez, Laney, so dramatic," said Erin, pot-to-kettlishly.

"I plan to be furious," I said. "Out with it."

“Okay, fine. I…I kind of got into a God fight in the cafeteria yesterday.”

I pictured children barricaded behind overturned cafeteria tables, lobbing Buddha-shaped meatballs, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, and Jesus tortillas at each other. A high-pitched voice off-camera shouts Allahu akbar!

"What’s a ‘God fight’?"

“Well I asked Courtney if she could come over on Sunday, and she said, ‘No, my family will be in church of course.’ And I said oh, what church do you go to? And she said she didn’t know, and she asked what church we go to. And I said we don’t go to church, and she said ‘Don’t you believe in God?’, and I said no, but I’m still thinking about it, and she said ‘But you HAVE to go to church and you HAVE to believe in God,” and I said no you don’t, different people can believe different things.”

Regular readers will recognize this as an almost letter-perfect transcript of a conversation Laney had with another friend last October.

I asked if the two of them were yelling or getting upset with each other. “No,” she said, “we were just talking.”

"Then I wouldn’t call it a fight. You were having a conversation about cool and interesting things."

Delaney: Then Courtney said, ‘But if there isn’t a God, then how did the whole world and trees and people get made so perfect?’

Dad: Ooo, good question. What’d you say?

Delaney: I said, ‘But why did he make the murderers? And the bees with stingers? And the scorpions?’

Now I don’t know about you, but I doubt my first grade table banter rose to quite this level. Courtney had opened with the argument from design. Delaney countered with the argument from evil.

Delaney: But then I started wondering about how the world did get made. Do the scientists know?

I described Big Bang theory to her, something we had somehow never covered. Erin filled in the gaps with what she remembered from our own talk, that “gravity made the stars start burning,” and “the earth used to be all lava, and it cooled down.”

Laney was nodding, but her eyes were distant. “That’s cool,” she said at last. “But what made the bang happen in the first place?”

Connor had asked that exact question when he was five. I told Laney the same thing I told him—that we don’t know what caused the whole thing to start. “But some people think God did it,” I added.

She nodded.

“The only problem with that,” I said, “is that if God made everything, then who…”

“Oh my gosh!” Erin interrupted. “WHO MADE GOD?! I never thought of that!”

"Maybe another God made that God," Laney offered.

“Maybe so, b...”

"OH WAIT!" she said. "Wait! But then who made THAT God? OMIGOSH!"

They giggled with excitement at their abilities. I can’t begin to describe how these moments move me. At ages six and ten, my girls had heard and rejected the cosmological (“First Cause”) argument within 30 seconds, using the same reasoning Bertrand Russell described in Why I Am Not a Christian:

I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: "My father taught me that the question ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question ‘Who made god?’” That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause.

…and Russell in turn was describing Mill, as a child, discovering the same thing. I doubt that Mill’s father was less moved than I am by the realization that confident claims of “obviousness,” even when swathed in polysyllables and Latin, often have foundations so rotten that they can be neutered by thoughtful children.

There was more to come. Both girls sat up and barked excited questions and answers. We somehow ended up on Buddha, then reincarnation, then evolution, and the fact that we are literally related to trees, grass, squirrels, mosses, butterflies and blue whales.

It was an incredible freewheeling conversation I will never, ever forget. It led, as all honest roads eventually do, to the fact that everything that lives also dies. We’d had the conversation before, but this time a new dawning crossed Laney’s face.

“Sweetie, what is it?” I asked.

She began the deep, aching cry that accompanies her saddest realizations, and sobbed:

"I don’t want to die."

[on to Part 2]
Visit The Meming of Life.

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Comment by Dale McGowan on September 1, 2008 at 8:49pm
I'm a big fan of irony, especially when heartfelt.
Comment by Hamad H. Balucci on September 1, 2008 at 6:07pm
I just stumbled on this post. It is amazing what can be done with little reasoning. But would it be ironic if I said God bless?
Comment by Dale McGowan on August 31, 2008 at 12:21pm
You're welcome. Getting beyond that "have-to" mentality was the main motivator for writing my book. But neither do kids have to "grasp the facts about atheism." My kids do not call themselves atheists, and in fact go in and out of belief in various forms all the time. They say what they believe in a given moment but will not take on a label until they are old enough to choose one on their own. Until then, my six-year-old always says to friends, "I believe X, but I'm still thinking about it."
Comment by abyrvalg on August 31, 2008 at 10:22am
Have a long-lasted argument with my wife, also an atheist. She argues that we have to rise children in religion, does not matter which one, to avoid problems at school. She grew up in US and argues that children at school understand when you are christian-orthodox, mormon, muslim or any other, but atheist, that you HAVE TO BELONG and. she says, that when children are young -- they can not grasp the facts about atheism to explain their position to others, which makes them vulnerable in situations like described in this post.
Lying to kids is the last thing I want to do. Thank you for the story -- it answers a lot of my questions and shows the way to convey to children basic ideas
Comment by Yenald Looshi on August 26, 2008 at 9:43pm
As the father of a godless (for now) six-year old, myself, I really enjoyed reading that post. I've had some similar discussions with my own :)
Comment by Eilonnwy on August 26, 2008 at 8:28pm
I love this story. If I had children I would hope to raise them to be free thinkers like that.
Comment by Dale McGowan on August 23, 2008 at 12:06pm
After I posted that comment, I remembered that I addressed this issue (the different between influence and indoctrination) in a long-ago post.
Comment by Dale McGowan on August 23, 2008 at 11:12am
A fine question, Shakeel, and one I just answered on my home blog as well. This understandable question comes from the inability to include my entire parenting approach in every post.

My regular readers know that my children have heard from me, repeatedly, that different people believe different things, that they are free to form their own opinions, that my own statements are merely expressions of my opinion, that I would rather have them disagree with me than adopt my point of view only because it is mine, and so on. These are the foundational concepts in our family's approach to knowledge. It frees me to express my thoughts and welcome theirs without the burden of an added paragraph of caveat and disclaimer on every conversation. My POV will unavoidably carry weight, but it is the best any parent can do to invite and encourage them to form independent opinions.
Comment by Matt Gregory on August 21, 2008 at 7:59am
It's actually the opposite. The fear of death is what makes people fly planes into buildings because they do so to attain eternal life in heaven. The fear of death is what makes countries invade other countries.
Comment by Dale McGowan on August 20, 2008 at 5:01pm
You got that right. It's a non-negotiable part of the bargain. And I don't even think we should try to completely cure ourselves or our kids of the fear -- just make it manageable. People with NO fear of death tend to do undesirable things like flying planes into buildings.

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