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Tridimity

Ever found yourself lying to kids about Heaven?

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Recently, when looking after my niece and nephew, I had to broach the subject of death. The death of a previous pet goldfish was mentioned and my nephew asked, 'Is he in Heaven now?' Looking into his hopeful eyes, I found myself saying, 'Yes, he is, maybe he is even watching down from Heaven now' - despite the fact that there is no evidence for the existence of Heaven and I suspect the likelihood of its existence to be exceedingly close to zero. Of course, the reason I lied was to provide psychological and emotional comfort, but the question remains - is it morally justifiable to lie to a child in this way and to suppress their critical thinking skills? Is this not the recipe for a subsequent generation of adults who prefer to accept received 'wisdom' from authority figures, if and when that information is more emotionally appealing than the oftentimes difficult truth? By supporting religiosity in children, will the result be a generation of adults who are not prepared to question the nature of morality independently, but who accept moral atrocities including war, homophobia, sexism, child abuse and the sidelining of reasoned argument in favour of the religious 'ideal'?

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I think the only reason they ask if it's 'in heaven or not' is because obviously somewhere along the line the idea of heaven has been put in their head. When kids ask things like 'is it in heaven now?' what they're really wondering is: 'what is death' or 'why did it have to die?'

 

Personally I think kids forget quick enough about dead hamsters and dead goldfish, so telling them something along the lines of 'it was just its time to go' is better. I don't think that would traumatise them lol. Instead of giving them a comforting idea, substitute that with actually comforting them directly; by answering any questions they have as best as you can, talk to them to make sure they're alright every now and then, and keep it off their mind by keeping them distracted with other stuff.

 

I can sympathise with the use of a comforting idea, when, say, a close family member dies, and I understand the psychological and emotional comfort part. But I think the whole 'comforting idea' route is usually a way of avoiding answering difficult questions, and brushing it under the rug. Personally, I'd deem that potentially harmful, confusing, and in general a worse method than just talking with them and answering their questions as honestly and gently as possible.

 

If they believe in heaven they probably believe in hell too, another thing to consider.

 

 

By supporting religiosity in children, will the result be a generation of adults who are not prepared to question the nature of morality independently, but who accept moral atrocities including war, homophobia, sexism, child abuse and the sidelining of reasoned argument in favour of the religious 'ideal'?

 

No I don't think just the idea of heaven will result in them growing up to be intolerant bigoted religionists. But it could make them more prone to believing superstitious nonsense once they grow up. I believe that to be the case for one main reason: They would never have learnt to accept or deal with difficult circumstances such as death, earlier in life, so they will more likely turn to superstition for comfort when they're older. Most people subscribe to religion for comfort.

Edited by Iota

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Thanks Iota, you are probably right in that honesty is preferable. I wish I had not been caught off guard when my nephew asked, I wish I had been proactive in thinking about the optimal response to the inevitable question before it was raised. Hey-ho!

 

Now to prepare for the next questions, 'why did you lie to me?' and, 'why would my goldfish want to watch over me?' (It probably only irritates him to see another fish eating his food...) wink.png

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Now to prepare for the next questions, 'why did you lie to me?' and, 'why would my goldfish want to watch over me?' (It probably only irritates him to see another fish eating his food...) wink.png

 

haha best of luck with that! tongue.png

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Even as a Christian, I wouldnt tell a kid that. Lying to kids about religious concepts will predispose them to assuming that all religion is a lie.

 

If you replace God with santa and say that it's santa that watches over them and judges whether they see "good or bad," then rewards Thwn accordingly.... Only to find out that santa was a lie... The tooth fairy was a lie... This is what builds illogical paranoia of such things.

 

I got fish specifically for the purpose of preparing my daughter to have a discussion about death. When a fish died, she helped me flush it. It's not a ghost. It's just dead.

Edited by Didymus

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Well, maybe it could acceptable. We tell them other things we don't believe exist either, like Santa Claus. Of course, you still get presents after you learn he doesn't exist.

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If you replace God with santa and say that it's santa that watches over them and judges whether they see "good or bad," then rewards Thwn accordingly.... Only to find out that santa was a lie... The tooth fairy was a lie... This is what builds illogical paranoia of such things.

 

 

I would call that healthy scepticism rather than illogical paranoia.

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[T]he question remains - is it morally justifiable to lie to a child in this way and to suppress their critical thinking skills?

 

One school of thought posits the idea that it's alright to lie if lying will prevent a greater harm from being inflicted. If a child is too emotionally immature to handle the concept of death, for example, lying to them about the presence of a goldfish in heaven may offer them the comfort they seek while delaying the need for them to emotionally come to grips with the idea of the permanence of death until such a time that they are capable of dealing with it.

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One school of thought posits the idea that it's alright to lie if lying will prevent a greater harm from being inflicted. If a child is too emotionally immature to handle the concept of death, for example, lying to them about the presence of a goldfish in heaven may offer them the comfort they seek while delaying the need for them to emotionally come to grips with the idea of the permanence of death until such a time that they are capable of dealing with it.

 

That's a very good point indeed. How do you know when a child or adolescent is sufficiently emotionally mature as to be able to handle the concept of death? If you protect a child too much, aren't you effectively preparing them for a barrage of emotional insult when they finally have to come to terms with the realities of the world? Also - some children continue to believe in Heaven as a real place to which souls go after death, and continue to believe throughout their adult life. Since young children tend to lack the critical thinking skills of adults, isn't the introduction of such ideas, effectively imprinting the child's mind (without their consent)?

 

Having kids must be hard sleep.png

Edited by Tridimity

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Lying to kids about religious concepts will predispose them to assuming that all religion is a lie.

 

 

So ironically by lying to them you'd be showing them the truth.

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That's a very good point indeed. How do you know when a child or adolescent is sufficiently emotionally mature as to be able to handle the concept of death? If you protect a child too much, aren't you effectively preparing them for a barrage of emotional insult when they finally have to come to terms with the realities of the world? Also - some children continue to believe in Heaven as a real place to which souls go after death, and continue to believe throughout their adult life. Since young children tend to lack the critical thinking skills of adults, isn't the introduction of such ideas, effectively imprinting the child's mind (without their consent)?

 

Having kids must be hard sleep.png

 

Having kids is like herding cats. Big cats. Think trying to convince a group of tigers to go where you want using nothing but your bare hands and some cheerios. That's what raising kids is like.

 

And there's no really good answer. My rule of thumb is that if they're old enough to ask to question they're probably old enough to get an answer, but that may not always be the case. All children are different and they all mature at different rates.

 

And everything we do imprints on the children around us. We teach them a good deal more with what we do and how we act than in what we actually say to them. As for hampering their critical thinking skills - some adults I know still don't have these, so I really doubt a story about a fish in heaven is going to have much impact one way or another.

Edited by Greg H.

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Having kids is like herding cats. Big cats. Think trying to convince a group of tigers to go where you want using nothing but your bare hands and some cheerios. That's what raising kids is like.

 

 

:lol: Best analogy I have heard in a while - thanks

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And everything we do imprints on the children around us. We teach them a good deal more with what we do and how we act than in what we actually say to them. As for hampering their critical thinking skills - some adults I know still don't have these, so I really doubt a story about a fish in heaven is going to have much impact one way or another.

smile.png

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You've got to remember that once they question the aura of religion themselves what you said will be inconsequential to most extents, if they decide against religion their critical thinking skills will be sharper due to the motion they've been lied to, if they decide upon themselves that they wish to believe in life after death, nobody was hurt. :D

 

You may have slightly influenced them towards believing, but thats dependant on your role in their lives and also on how they interpret what they're told. It marginal really and nice concept to believe in as its harmless. (though religion on the whole might not be)

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I tend to think that it's better to present a difficult truth and have a dialog about it than to offer an easy lie and consequently end all discussion.

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I tend to think that it's better to present a difficult truth and have a dialog about it than to offer an easy lie and consequently end all discussion.

 

Your truth, its not sciences truth.

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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Can you elaborate? I'm not following you... at all.

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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Can you elaborate? I'm not following you... at all.

 

Well by default your saying the difficult truth is that heaven is a made up entity i presume? Unless you propose telling the kid that your not quite sure if it exists and you wanna start a debate with them? Because scientifically there's no verdict on it. Its scientifically here nor there, its not been disproven, its not like lieing, such as saying that iron is stronger than diamond, which is scientifically incorrect. Its just a concept, exactly the same way as fake borders and laws are concepts, they are no more scientific than heaven. You can believe the borders exist, but i assure they are every bit as man made as heaven.

Edited by DevilSolution

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Ah. Thanks for clarifying. My comment was much broader than just this discussion about heaven. I tend to prefer dealing in difficult truths than in easy lies was intended as a more general approach to dealing with other humans, children included.

 

With that said, the question about heaven is an easy one, IMO. It's almost certainly a fairy tale, and while I cannot be 100% sure it does not exist, there's currently no good reason (based on evidence and reason and rationality) to assume it does. We have the same evidence that heaven exists as we do that leprechauns exist. I am comfortable having that conversation with a child, and think we as a culture should all be mature enough to do so.

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I personally dont believe in heaven either but i dont dismiss it on scientific grounds. Its a very well rounded spiritual belief people are entitled to. I think its a specifically usefull concept to use when dealing with death and children as the other option is hard to comprehend even as adults, the whole spiral of philosophy you must wrap your head around is ridiculous. I agree with you on other issues though, i wouldnt apply the same rules to political or historical truths.

 

Death is a void children have no way of understanding.....so a conceptual placeholder is created.

Edited by DevilSolution

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Here's a good article from Sam Harris that touches on many of the same themes as this thread. I've shared a very brief excerpt below, along with a link so you can read the entire piece (which is itself a lead in to his larger book called Lying).

 

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-high-cost-of-tiny-lies

 

As parents, we must maintain our children’s trust—and the easiest way to lose it is by lying to them. Of course, we should communicate the truth in ways they can handle—and this often demands that we suppress details that would be confusing or needlessly disturbing. An important difference between children and (normal) adults is that children are not fully capable of conceiving of (much less looking out for) their real interests. Consequently, it might be necessary in some situations to pacify or motivate them with a lie. In my experience, however, such circumstances almost never arise.

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Thanks iNow, just read Sam Harris' article - the story about the parents who lied to their child as a prank for their own entertainment purposes is sickening. Of course we know that the child will get their candy back - but the child doesn't know this, and arguably, what the child is upset about is not so much the thought of losing candy as the realisation that their parents do not care about them or their feelings sufficiently as to treat them consistently. I often see variations on this theme of not fully respecting children's thoughts and emotions, mostly by parents in public places with their children, who think that it is sensible to threaten, blackmail or bribe their child into behaving in a way in which they want the child to behave. We would not accept these kinds of lies and disrespect of thoughts/feelings if they occurred in an adult-adult dynamic - we would typically label it as 'bullying' - why do people generally deem it more acceptable for a parent to do this to their own child? Assertiveness is the preferable option in all human relationships, regardless of age or any other demographic factor. Probably the best lesson that an adult can teach to a child is the correct reasons for believing in something, along the lines of Richard Dawkins' letter to his ten year old daughter on the 'Good and Bad Reasons for Believing':

 

http://lucite.org/lucite/archive/atheism_-_dawkins_articles/richard%20dawkins%20-%20good%20and%20bad%20reasons%20for%20believing.doc.pdf

 

This ought to be Life Lesson 101.

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No, replacing critical thinking in kids with stories about Heaven, God, Santa, the American Dream (kidding...) is not a good idea in the long term. I know teens who still wonder about Santa's existence. Teens.

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How about taking advantage of a bad situation by changing the focus to the value of life and the reality that it is finite. Time should not be wasted or taken for granted, whether or not heaven exists or doesn't. Imagine all of the eternal energy of the universe awaiting just the right circumstances and the timely process to manifest itself as a living being, would it take life for granted wasting its precious little time or would it reach for the source? We should inspire our children to do just that.

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When you talk about the deaths of significant others, saying that they went to heaven is not a lie. Despite my disbelief in a heaven, it should be considered as a different way of viewing death. The gift of liberty, that many people fought and died for, should be granted to all. So tell them the truth and give them choice, it doesn't have to be made gruesome or unsavory. Put it like this, 'Throughout the world there are a lot of people. There are also a lot of different beliefs on how things work. Some people believe there is an afterlife and some people believe they go to sleep for a long time. But no matter what you believe, the fish won't come back. But he is still here, in our memories.' Then you smile, give him a hug, and go grab some ice cream. If he grieves then that is healthy. At least he knows the truth and he is hopefully tolerant to different beliefs.

 

Same way I was raised and I think I turned out alright.

(Except my incredibly horrible nightmares about my cat. Meee-ow!)

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