The invention of …

Think it’s tough telling your parents or friends that maybe there isn’t any god, or any afterlife? Try telling a 4-year-old who’s frightened of dying — and who just happens to be your daughter.

The author, Dan Kois, doesn’t describe himself as atheist or agnostic, but he does start out by trying to explain to his daughter that some people don’t think you keep living after you die.

But from an atheist POV, the story has what could be considered a sad ending: “A few weekends after that day in September, we put on our Sunday clothes and drove around the corner to Rock Spring Congregational.”

Is this how religions get started? People making up stories to comfort other people who are frightened of the unknown? Ricky Gervais and others behind the film “The Invention of Lying” seem to think so.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Caitlin on February 19, 2010 at 11:46 am

    I’ve found that it’s difficult to have that conversation with a young child, especially when one side of the family is very devout. My son’s namesake and uncle died in a workplace accident a few weeks after his 21st birthday. My in-laws choose to refer to their son as an angel or say that he was “called home to God” when the grandkids ask about him. (He died a couple of years before the oldest grandchild was born.)

    This has prompted more than a few conversations with my 5 year old son about death and what comes after. He is not really bothered by the angel part, aside from trying (and failing) to see angels. But the “called home to God” part really scares him. I’ve tried explaining that people believe different things happen after someone dies and no one knows for sure. He sees being “called home to God” as scary because as he says “my home is with Mama and Daddy and God won’t let my uncle come home for visits.” He has nightmares about God coming in the night and taking him away forever.

    I’ve tried explaining that being called home isn’t a scary thing to his grandparents, because they believe that God is taking care of his uncle and that one day, they will be back together again. I haven’t really talked about my beliefs, other than there’s no way of knowing for sure what will happen. Given his nightmares about being taken away forever, I don’t think “It’s like going to sleep, but never waking up” would help those nightmares either. I’ve tried focusing on making time for the people we love (through phone calls, letters, and visits) and it’s ok to be sad about people you miss. His great grandparents are elderly and not in the best of health, so unfortunately, I will have to figure out something better sooner rather than later.


  2. Posted by BrianE on February 20, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    We’ve taken somewhat of a Buddhist approach to death in our family (7 yr old and 4 yr old). We’ve talked about how life never really ends, but transforms into something else. Something or someone else had your life energy before you did, you possess it now, and when you die, your body and energy will transform into something else. This explanation is not only scientifically accurate, but provides some level of comfort to the young as well as engaging their imagination (I used to be a shark, or when I die I’ll become a butterfly).

    Right now though, my 4 year old daughter is fascinated with the idea of heaven. And you know what? It’s no big deal at all. Atheist parents need to relax more when it comes to ideas such as heaven. For the most part, they are harmless – when they are taught and discussed in open-minded fashion and not preached as gospel.

    I highly recommend Dale McGowen’s work to any secular parents who might be concerned about such topics as death.


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