Lying to children about death

The Winter edition of “Free Mind”, published by the American Humanist Association, carries an article headed, “No, we shouldn’t lie to our children about God and death”.   it quotes a Wall Street Journal article advising parents to tell their children that God and heaven are real, even if they don’t believe it.  The reason given  is that the idea of dying and turning to dust might work for adults, but belief in God and heaven helps children grapple with tremendous and incomprehensible loss.

This idea is very common and there are many people who blame the country’s growing secularity for moral decay, nihilism and despair. Attorney General William Barr has charged that “the campaign to destroy the traditional moral order has… brought with it immense suffering and misery.” He and those who think like him reject studies which show that religion per se has little to do with mental health and the way kids interact with other people.  It is the social aspects of organised religión that help children grow up living ethical and meaningful lives, not religious services or dogma as such.  Children need to grow up surrounded by like-minded people who care about them, show their love of them, and look out for them.

The article goes on to say that children are people and deserve respect. If you don’t want them to lie to you, you shouldn’t lie to them.  Tell them they will die – one day, far in the future ( reassuring!)  Tell them that being dead is not painful  (“Death is nothing to us”. Epicurus) and that people who die don’t get hungry or frightened, but live on through cherished memories, the continuation of projects they have  contributed to; and stories and anecdotes, preferably amusing, about their lives.  Meanwhile, get them to join clubs, sports teams, choirs, whatever so that they have plenty of socialization.  Fill their lives with love and learning.  There is no need to choose between theism and nihilism.

My comment: I was brought up with chapel every day and had a grounding in  christian thinking.  As a teenager I was religious ( which had more to do with loneliness than religion, looking back on it). But I haven’t needed the church and priests to remind me at all times to try to live life (I hope) with integrity, honesty,  politeness, kindness and consideration, telling the truth. It has been Epicureanism that has reinforced this, not  fairy stories about angelic choirs and heaven after death.

On the other hand I also think it fine for children to be exposed to the Sunday school bible stories and internalise their messages, if this is not a contradiction!  One needs choice. What do you think?

One Comment

  1. A great article Robert, having been raised both Catholic and Lutheran, at a very young age (under 6) I didn’t understand the reason why different labels of Christianity existed, and it led me to question my parents about the nature of heaven and hell and what death is like. Of course this led to me disavowing religion as a whole a few years after, it really wasn’t until I had become Epicurean, did I find a solid and wide-sweeping attitude about death (which I had already held) that tied perfectly into ethics and physics.

    One day, if I ever have children, I’ll be sure to tell them the truth and to always ask for the truth.

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