What an Atheist Told His Daughter When She Asked About God

David Lesser wrote this on Huffington Post.

The Big Questions come at the most unexpected times. The other day, driving home from preschool, Penny asked me if God could hear us. This question was followed by, “does he know where we live?” and “does he see everything we do?” My responses to these thought-provoking metaphysical queries varied from “uhh…” to “err…” and finally, a “maybe you should talk to your mother about this one.” (I was about as helpful as Penny’s little brother, Simon, who sat there, fascinated by the whole exchange.) Penny came to her own conclusion, “I think He does.”

Oy.

I am an atheist. There are many reasons why I don’t believe in God and why I’m not a big fan of organized religion. But you’ve probably heard them all before, expressed much more articulately than I could hope to do here. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind, anyway. My wife, Allie, believes in God. Although she does not attend temple services any more than I do, she observes religion in her own way. Encompassed in her belief system seems to be the need to constantly apologize to some dude who looks down on us from the clouds for all the silly, blasphemous things I say. (I’m sure she apologized for me calling him “some dude.”)

There are certain things that I would not hesitate to force on my kids (or, at least, strongly guide them towards): love of running, experimental eating and an appreciation of good music and terrible movies. (Other than enjoying terrible movies — though the wrong kind of terrible — I’m pretty much failing in these efforts.)

The acceptance or rejection of God is different.

Maybe it’s even more different when you’re Jewish. I don’t believe in God, but I still identify as a Jew. There’s just so much cultural baggage. And, of course, the belief in one God (and then the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah) is a big part of why Jews have historically been discriminated against and why they stuck together in whatever land they found themselves in (more like an ethnic group than a religious one).

Most of the time, I don’t think about my Jewishness. But every once in a while, it becomes my defining characteristic. I was a little offended that all of the holiday songs at my daughter’s school’s Winter Holiday Extravaganza (or whatever it was called) were going to be Christmas-themed. Not one for Hannukah. I don’t have anything against Christmas songs, I just didn’t like the idea of my daughter and the few other Jewish students feeling left out. So I became the “Jewish dad,” speaking on behalf of all of the Jewish parents. Penny’s teacher, who is very sweet, was happy to add that old classic “The Dreidel Song” to the mix. My motivations had nothing to do with God — if God were mentioned in “The Dreidel Song,” I’d probably rather hear “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” for the thousandth time — just the cultural identity of being an American Jew.

I’ve always thought that the concept of God exists because people fear death, and that religion is too often used to justify abhorrent behavior against “others.” Before I cloud my kids’ minds with my cynicism, however, I want them to be open to the idea of a higher power. Maybe this belief will help them later in life, or maybe they will come to the same conclusions I have.

The only thing I know is that when Penny brought up the topic of God, I choked.

For now, I’m asking my daughter more questions than I’m answering. When we got home, I asked her if she thought God could see us when we were in the car or if he could only see us when we’re outside. Mostly, I wanted to find out if she thought God was always all around us, or if her idea of a higher power correlated more closely with something that exists solely in nature. I also asked because I felt bad about not engaging in the topic when she first brought it up. She answered, hesitantly, that God… could see us in the car. In her answer, was the implicit question, Am I right?

Baby, if I only knew.

But no one does, despite the people who claim to “know Him,” no one knows. All we can do is decide for ourselves what we want to believe; what we want to put our faith in. I choose to put my faith in the things I can see or that can be proven: my family, myself and, yeah, science. I do not always understand these things (my wife is an eternal mystery and science is, well, let’s just say I’m no rocket scientist). Hence, the faith part. But, through my own experiences, I know these things are real. Other people may feel the same way about God.

The most important part of religion for Allie is doing good for others (that’s why I love her). This fundamental aspect of Judaism is called tzedakah. For Yom Kippur, a holiday I like to think of as “Jewish time-out,” Jews around the world fast while thinking long and hard about all the bad stuff they have done throughout the year. On that day, Allie does not refrain from eating. Instead, she had the idea a few years ago to donate food to a local no-kill animal shelter that is filled with dogs and cats that have been abandoned and, in many cases, abused. (We had a rescue cat that died when Penny was 3 and this tradition is in her honor.) We do this mitzvah (good deed) as a family. Penny picks out all the food at the grocery store and, at the shelter, tells the cats what she got them and asks if they’re hungry. It’s important that our children feel instrumental in whatever charity we do.

If my kids do decide God is real, I hope they use him as a tool and not as a crutch. People can be moral without God and immoral with him. I don’t care what my kids believe. I care about who they are. I’ll try not to influence their spiritual beliefs, but I know that everything my wife and I do and say influences the people they will become.

God help me.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-lesser/what-an-atheist-told-his-daughter-when-she-asked-about-god_b_5523358.html

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12 thoughts on “What an Atheist Told His Daughter When She Asked About God

  1. Reblogged this on Essential Thinking and commented:
    A really interesting post here- not that I’m shirking my responsibility to think creatively, but time and reality are meaning that writing my thoughts down isn’t happening each day at the moment…so I hope you’ll forgive the reblog of a reblogged post. Besides, it actually fits really well with the ideas found in Genesis 42- a higher power controlling things, the questions about human power and the use/abuse of authority… maybe I’ll write something myself later…

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  2. Shows the insidious invasive effect religion has ~ and how early it starts.
    His FIRST response ~ when asked:- ” if God could hear us”. ~ should’ve been: What’s ‘god’, Sweetie, and what makes you think there’s any such thing?

    About forty years later he may, or may not, have received a response.

    I learnt the basics of logic in Year One at tech school, and the first thing we learnt was NEVER base an argument on a false premise.

    The rest of what he goes on about is ‘politics’.

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    • You presume it’s a false premise, Dabs. The fact that many people, and not just Christians, think otherwise, must surely leave room for conjecture?

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      • Strewth,
        It’s a false premise because it’s assumed to be truth but with no objective evidence to verify it. Truth, remember, is “that which can be verified.”. It’s NOT my truth or your truth or anybody’s else’s truth. It’s what can be independently verified, and it’s certainly not to be found through faith.

        Faith really just means we don’t know but we are having a blinkered and uneducated guess and not only hoping and wanting, but actually pinning all our hopes on it turning out to be both true and supernatural. Since such faith can have you believing in any sort of whacky or imaginary scenarios, however crazy or unlikely, that means your belief is almost certainly false.

        And particularly so if the sole arbiter of its truth is you and your feelings, unmoderated by any critical thinking which has not always been adulterated by the original very shaky premise.

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      • But Rol, it is a fact that I do not like A, that I’m afraid of B, I love C, etc. All based on feelings and unverifiable, but true. There is subjective truth.

        I have just been reading about the possibility of DNA carrying ancestors’ memories. If we have no evidence that some of our beliefs are due to real past events, that does not mean they are false, just that science is still, as always, learning.

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      • Not convinced Strewth.
        Firstly…The premise is touted as ‘Truth’ and absolute at that; not conjecture.
        Secondly….Even ‘conjecture’ (and hypotheses) must, definitively, be based on
        “Reasoning that involves the formation of conclusions from incomplete EVIDENCE.”

        And the ‘many people’ argument ~ a very common one ~ brings to mind a couple of quotes from The Notebooks of Lazarus Long:-
        1…If “everybody knows” such-and-such, then it ain’t so, by at least ten thousand to one.
        2,,,,Does history record any case in which the majority was right?

        No. 2 raises some scope for useful conjecture ~ and could lead to a hard and fast rule that majority decisions are always dismissed as ‘wrong in principle’!
        ….enough to warm the cockles of any old anarchist’s heart 😉

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      • “It’s a false premise because it’s assumed to be truth but with no objective evidence to verify it. Truth, remember, is “that which can be verified.”. It’s NOT my truth or your truth or anybody’s else’s truth. It’s what can be independently verified, and it’s certainly not to be found through faith.”

        The Link below shows images of animals from primitive / ancient / medieval cultures, that look like today’s dinosaurs.
        http://www.genesispark.com/exhibits/evidence/historical/ancient/dinosaur/

        According to evolution, it is not possible for man and dinosaurs to have coexisted.
        And how do evolutionists explain these artefacts? We are told to believe that ancient cultures had engaged in Paleontology, assembled the dinosaur bones, fleshed them out and then somehow lost the art of paleontology.

        What they don’t tell you about Paleontology is how difficult it is to excavate the bones and then put them together. What they don’t tell you about Paleontology is that even coming to the correct conclusion is difficult without specialised scientific training. Yet we are constantly told that ancient man in addition to still evolving, had the scientific training to engage in paleontology, then suddenly lost it.

        Another theory proposed by Carl Sagan (Dragons in Eden) was that memory of mammals living with dinosaurs was transmitted to us in DNA as ancestral memories. But there is no scientific proof of this whatsoever.

        Thus Rol’s statement that:

        Faith really just means we don’t know but we are having a blinkered and uneducated guess and not only hoping and wanting, but actually pinning all our hopes on it turning out to be both true and supernatural. Since such faith can have you believing in any sort of whacky or imaginary scenarios, however crazy or unlikely, that means your belief is almost certainly false.

        aptly applies to evolution.

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    • Strewth, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that DNA could hold ancestor’s memories. Blood really is thicker than water and contains much more than platelets and plasma. If you look at stories of twins and their connections or even just mother’s uncanny connection to her children. You know that thoughts travel. The closer the blood ties, the stronger the love, the clearer the reception.

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      • Not a stretch at all Kate:- “…DNA could hold ancestor’s memories.”
        Commonly known as ‘instincts’.

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      • Twins are generally identical DNA raised in a close to identical fashion. Why would a “connection” be a surprise ?

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