Week 10 – Day 65 of Homeschooling in the Middle East – Is it OK to ask young children to question the existence of God? Part 2

FOREWORD: If you are new to homeschoolingmiddleeast, welcome! I highly recommend that you start reading from ‘Day 1’. The fastest way to access this is to look for ‘Archives’ on the right hand side of the home page, click on ‘February 2012’ and scroll down to the bottom of the page that opens. If you want a quick first visit, you could type a term e.g. ‘socialization’ or ‘university’, into the ‘Search’ box or of course you could just read my latest posts without doing anything! Why I recommend starting at Day 1 is because this is an adventure into homeschooling that is not yet 3 months old and the journey has been a rollercoaster  – philosophically and emotionally, catalogued daily for the first couple of months. For you to get the full intellectual and dramatic impact, it’s best to start at the beginning. You might be contemplating home educating and wonder what those early nail-biting days feel like or you might enjoy reading somebody else’s take on an experience you share with me, or you might be more generally interested in my thoughts and feelings on education and parenting. Whatever the reason you’re reading, I’m really humbled that you’re taking your valuable time to do so and I really hope I can be some kind of hope or inspiration for you. Thank you! Now for today’s post…

A caveat to start with – if you are not religious, please don’t be put off reading this post. The existence of God is something everyone considers one way or another during their lives. When we do is an interesting question. If it’s sooner rather than later, should children be equipped to deal with this? If you are religious, please don’t feel disrespected by a discussion about God’s existence. As I said, I think everyone doubts the existence of God at times, I think it’s a natural human condition to do so. But this post is not debating the existence of God but whether this is a suitable subject for philosophical examination with young children.

I don’t think so, unless you want your child to seriously consider Atheism. Although this is their right, I think you drop them into a vacuum from which some children might find it very hard to claw their way out, especially if they have a melancholy disposition. I think Atheism is a very bleak prospect for children although even more bleak is the thought that there might BE a God but that he is not a benevolent one. After all, it’s hard enough for adults to contemplate there being no loving, caring, powerful being who will provide us with a comfortable, happy life, let alone Afterlife. Regarding the Afterlife; from a young age, many children start having some concept of death whether through true tragedy like a parent’s death or – from a practical perspective – ‘practice-tragedies’ like a pet’s death. I call them practice-tragedies because children have a chance to work through their thoughts and feelings without being totally overwhelmed. So, not providing a belief in any kind of Afterlife is really terrifying for children.  Children deal with death much more easily, as we all do, if we believe that our loved ones live on in some way, in some place and that we’ll see those loved ones again, somehow.

A belief in a loving God is such a comfort. Is it fair to take this comfort away whilst it’s still in our power to give? When they are out in the world on their own, we can no longer protect our children from their own self-initiated thoughts or from those that would seek to introduce them to Atheism or Agnosticism. That’s OK. Once they’ve been brought up with the comfort of knowing/ thinking there’s a God who loves them, they might consider these alternatives, they might acknowledge that they have a lot of rational weight behind them, but then they might decide to seek the comfort they had before from their faith. When I mean faith, I don’t mean a particular faith expressed through a particular religion although if they want one, that is a choice they will have to make too, including whether to accept or reject the one they have at home. I just hope that whatever they decide, all children, including our own, choose a way of living that is kind and considerate of other people.

Most people, I hazard to say all people with half decent brains, have doubts about God’s existence or at the least the benevolence of his nature (I’ll say ‘his’ because for better or worse most people think of God as a ‘he’). If you haven’t doubted the nature or existence of God, I can only think you are either very shallow or very, very lucky because having a deep faith in the omniscience, omnipotence and benevolence of God, despite one of the most intractable theological/philosophical problems termed ‘The Problem of Evil’, is very, very comforting. I think if children are provided with faith in a God that loves them, then they have more chance of coming back to this, even if they wander away for some time, than if they’d never had it at all.

I am a huge advocate of critical-thinking skills and philosophical training, which can and should be taught to children from a very young age, just as mathematical and scientific thinking skills are introduced at a young age. But the existence and nature of God is not a topic that I think should be tackled until children are much older and only if it’s self-initiated i.e. if they start having doubts all by themselves or are presented with doubts from independent reading or other people. Then I think it’s the right time to discuss the subject with them. But I think it’s important to always warn them that Atheism or Agnosticism can be very depressing.

I absolutely think that you can be a good person if you’re an Atheist or Agnostic. This is not in doubt. When I was an Agnostic, I never needed any kind of religious dictates to behave in a moral way. What I am concerned about is a child having the opportunity to grow up with a warm, cozy feeling that someone more powerful than them has ultimately got their best interests at heart despite the trials and tribulations of everyday life, a kind of ‘super parent’. Regarding specific religions, a person’s choice of religion and how they practice that religion is a whole other debate that can also be embarked upon once children are much older.

So, a combination of bringing children up with a feeling that God loves them and the critical thinking/philosophical skills that, unbeknownst to them, they may well have to exercise on the subject of his existence and his nature, when they are older, is essential I think.

If you don’t have these skills, you can spend years worrying about issues that others have worried about before you! As I said, the most intractable theological problem is ‘The Problem of Evil’; the fact of suffering, sometimes, immense suffering, for the best, most helpless people in the world including children. You could really suffer yourself thinking that the explanation for this problem is that God is punishing us, for example. I can’t prove that there is a God or whether he’s punishing us or not. But once you know that lots of people have wondered about this horrible scenario and what the arguments are for and against this – that is some comfort in itself. After all misery loves company, it’s comforting to know others have agonized about that thought too! And it’s much more productive to move on to more fundamental theological arguments.

There’s no point reinventing the wheel in Philosophy. There’s no point worrying about all those things that others have worried about before you! Benefit from their worry, their thinking, and think or worry about other things! Or keep worrying about e.g. ‘The Problem of Evil’, knowing what all the best thinkers have thought before you because then you have the best chance of solving it! Let me know how that goes 😉  Best of all, and probably more likely, you might find you don’t have to worry at all anymore, which is what eventually happened to me.

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About homeschoolingpenny

Hi and welcome! My name is Penny and I used to live in Bahrain but In November 2012 moved to Dubai and now we live in Granada, Spain! If you want to contact me my email is pjmontford@hotmail.com. I recommend you start my blog on 'Day 1' but please enjoy whatever you dip into. 23 February 2012 marked the first day of no more school FOREVER for my two kids. Edward, who is nearly 10 had attended a variety of schools since he was very little. Petra, who is now 6, has never gone to school. On this date we decided Edward was never going back to school and Petra never would go to school. We hope to successfully homeschool from this day forward, although we would consider an alternative school as an option- if there was some amazing Sudbury or other really alternative school. Actually, I prefer the term 'home learning' than 'homeschool' because I don't like to think of school coming into our home. In fact, I hope to go further and guide/learn alongside, rather than teach, my kids using the 'unschooling' philosophy to instill a lifelong love of learning in them. We lived in the Middle East and now Spain all of which are very challenging places to home educate. This is an exciting journey that I used to blog about regularly, at first it was on an almost daily basis. Please join me on our travels and I hope we might be able to help each other out along the way. I certainly hope I can be a source of support and comfort and, in time, knowledge to all potential/presently participating homeschoolers/home educators/unschoolers. Good luck to us all! If you want to read about why I started home educating, why I pulled my son out of a 'very good' private school mid-term, how I felt at the very start and how my philosophy has evolved, please start from 'Day 1' of the blog. Please do post comments at the end of any days that you read. Your opinion is valuable and it's great to start up debate amongst other people commenting too, however old the post. Thank you for visiting homeschoolingmiddleeast.
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4 Responses to Week 10 – Day 65 of Homeschooling in the Middle East – Is it OK to ask young children to question the existence of God? Part 2

  1. Interesting read, we’re atheist and I do wonder about what to tell the children. Our cat needed to be put down and I thought we would get questions but actually they were a bit sad about it but they never asked deeper questions about it (maybe not quite old enough for those questions yet). I can’t tell them there is a God when I don’t believe there is, and I don’t think that them growing up knowing their parents don’t believe is going to in anyway depress or emotionally damage them. I’m not depressed but I know that it’s view a lot of religious people hold about atheists and I think that’s because to a religious person the idea that this is it and that there is no God is depressing, if suddenly a religious person was to find out for sure that there is no heaven and there is no God they would go through a period of great loss and mourning, I can imagine that having that belief and then it being taken away would be awful and the emotional damage would be huge. But if like me and most other atheists (ones I’ve spoken to anyway) the realisation that no God exists came about during childhood there is nothing to get depressed about, it never existed therefore I never and can never lose it. So why would I get depressed about it? The other thing is that as an atheist I believe this is it, this life is all we get, which again to some would be depressing, but for the atheist it’s not a problem, it’s a motivation. This is it and we want to get the most out of it cos there are no second chances.

    With the children and death we are going to take the “nobody knows for sure but some people believe xxxx and some people believe xxxx and we believe xxxx” because I do get that to a child being told that’s that nothing more could be a bit much especially at a young age, and it will hopefully be one of our opportunities to teach religion and other cultures.

    • Hi Marisa, I totally agree that with Atheism or even a spiritual belief like mine that isn’t religious, there is a great motivation to lead this life the best way we can. Although I hope there’s an Afterlife where we’ll meet loved ones who’ve already died, it’s not the same and I also don’t think there are second chances there. Although maybe there’s reincarnation. I can’t dismiss that. It seems a very practical way to run the Universe – recycling! I agree that having a strong belief that you lose could be very traumatic but for me, until recently, never having a belief was depressing too. But for you it wasn’t. So it’s true, we’re all different. And maybe so are kids. My friend is bringing up her son the way you plan to with your kids and he seems fine about that. My son really seems to need the comfort of God, even outside of any religion. It’s interesting. Some people find having a belief in God and being spiritual in a private sense completely anathema. They think you have to follow some prescribed religion. I don’t think so. But if people do, I wish they could be a bit gentler about it and not so self-satisfied! Great to have your opinion! Thanks so much for commenting.

  2. shaema imam says:

    I think you’ve dealt with a controversial topic in a generic enough way to minimize affront but specifically enough to inititate thought and discussion, not an easy feat!

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