An Imaginary Conversation with a 4 Year Old
Recently I was contacted by an online friend Julie asking me if I had any resources for educating children about religion in an unbiased fashion. I, as did they, searched the google-sphere and came up with nearly zero. Most of the links I found were how-tos of indoctrinating your child into a specific religion, something which I find abhorrent. I am of the opinion that we have to teach about religions to our children and in our schools, in all its manifestations, without giving any precedence to any or emphasising one over another. The kids will, in time, make up their own minds about religion, and given enough information will hopefully come to the conclusion that there is no God, or at least that organised religion is a scam. But we do have to teach it, after all, it is apart of society, even if I think it is untrue.
Not to leave Julie in the lurch, I suggested I write an article about how I would approach the subject with a child in an honest and unbiased way. Since I can’t think like a 4 year old, the questions may not actually reflect what a 4 year old might ask. Think of it more as a primer for what answers you might be able to give, than a definitive guide to religion for kids. The final product is probably too adult for a 4 year old, but I hope it can give some pointers as to a way of approaching the topic of religion, God and death. This is what I wrote for Julie.
An Imaginary Conversation with a 4 Year Old
4YO: What happens when we die?
Me: Well that’s a big question. When we get old our bodies don’t repair themselves like they once did. You know how if you hurt yourself and you bleed, then the scratch goes away a few days later, that’s your body repairing itself. When people get too old or too sick their bodies can’t keep up and they die.
4YO: A boy down the street said his grandma went to God when she died. What does that mean?
Me: Some people believe that when we die, it’s just a stepping stone to another life. These people think we go to live with God in heaven. Others think that when we die, that’s the end for us and we just stop being around on Earth. Others again believe that we come back to Earth as another animal, like a rabbit or a spider or an earthworm.
4YO: But who is God?
Me: Well, some people think that God created everything a billions of years ago. Others think that God created the world only a short time ago. And ther are those who think that everything came about naturally, and that there is no God. Different people believe different things. And when they believe in God, this is called religion. People have different religions depending on what they were brought up to believe.
4YO: But what is religion?
Me: A long time ago people didn’t have cars and TVs and phones. And people didn’t really understand how the world worked. When something happened, like an earthquake or a drought, people wanted to be able to explain how and why it was happening, but they didn’t have the technology we have to do it. So they looked around and used what they could find to explain things. They would look at a tree, or the sun, or the way an animal was acting, and try to piece together reasons for things. And there were many gaps in what they could see, more questions than answers, so people thought that these things they couldn’t explain were because of someone or something bigger than themselves.
You know how you can make a sandcastle at the beach, and then you can stand on it? Some people thought that God made everything, then could make things happen to make them go away too. People thought that when something bad happened that it was God punishing them for doing something wrong.
But different people in different places came up with different explanations about why things happen. They wrote these things down and that’s how we ended up with religions.
4YO: Why did people think they were being punished?
Me: Because they didn’t have a better explanation for things.
4YO: But why?
Me: Well, these days we have tools to help us explain things. Like, once upon a time people thought that stars were holes in a big black sheet, but we know now that stars are actually just like our sun, only really far away. Just like we can explain stars, we can explain tides, earthquakes, just about everything. And we can explain more every day.
4YO: Why do people have different religions?
Me: It depends upon what you’ve been taught, and the answers you come up with during life. My parents were brought up being what’s called a Protestant. The man down the street, the one who wears a scarf on his head, he’s part of a religion called Sikhism. The Italian lady next door is part of the religion called Roman Catholic, and me, I don’t have a religion. Each one of these religions has a different set of beliefs about what happens when you die, and what you should do during your life to make God happy.
4YO: Why don’t you have a religion?
Me: Well, because I’ve looked at the world around me and come to the conclusion that there is no God, and that everything can happen naturally without needing to explain it with a God.
4YO: Why do people want to make God happy?
Me: I guess because people are scared of things they don’t understand. People still don’t now for certain what happens when they die, and some people fear they are going to miss the life they have on Earth once they die. Religions promise that you can live forever if you make God happy.
4YO: But why do we have to make God happy?
Me: Because people like to be happy, so they figure it’s only natural that God would want to be happy.
4YO: Why do people die?
Me: Because everything can only last a certain amount of time. Some things live longer than others, trees can live for hundreds of years, and people only live about 80 years, which is a long time too. Things have to change all the time, and dying is one of these things. Our bodies stop repairing themselves like they used to, and eventually it stops altogether.
4YO: What do you think happens when we die?
Me: We stop breathing, and we stop thinking. Our families bury us in a cemetery and remember our life. And that’s it really.
4YO: What religion should I be?
Me: You can be whatever religion you like, if you want to. But don’t do things just because someone told you to. Don’t follow a religion just because a friend says it’s true. You have to decide for yourself what you believe. That’s all part of the fun of being human. Now go outside and play, I’ve got to finish this blog piece.