I saw this picture shared of Facebook and it got me thinking about how I would answer the question.
The question assumes that God is required to give life meaning, or in fact, to make life worth living. This assumption reveals a dearth of in-depth thought and a simplistic view of the world in general and human nature in particular.
Let’s take Ken’s statement one by one.
“Kids, you’re just an animal” – Yes Ken, that is true. And kids love animals and most kids I know love the thought of themselves being animals. Ken is making another assumption here that being an animal is somehow a bad thing. This is due to the Bible teachings that humans are lords over the animals. Of course humans are animals, but we are thinking animals with a sense of self, something rare, but not unique, in nature. The idea that we share so much in common with other animals allows us to feel compassion and empathy towards them, where as the idea that they are brutes to be reined in allows for abuse and neglect. Knowing that they are animals allows kids to empathize with animals and to treat them humanely. It also teaches that we are as much a part of the natural world as any other animal leading us to be more likely to try to take care of nature.
“There’s no God” – While this is an important topic to discuss with your kids, I don’t think it really factors into if atheists have a positive message for kids. My kids know I don’t believe in God, and they know my reasons why, which are too numerous to go into here. But they also know that I have told tem that it is up to them to decide if they want to believe in God or not. That is far too personal and important an issue to be decide by someone else. I want my kids to be their own persons, and to do that, they need to find their own answers. My job is to give them the critical thinking tools, the confidence, and the love to do it.
“When you die you won’t know you existed: – True, as far as science can say. And so what? Why is this such a terrifying thought? Knowing that this is the only life we have, the only existence we will ever know, makes me want to make the most of it. To cherish every moment. To live every second to the maximum. It makes me appreciate those around me so much more because I know that life is short and I need to not take anything, or anyone, for granted, This is why I always try to tell those I love that I love them as often as I can. I want them to know that I love them so that if I am dead tomorrow, that thought is fresh in their minds.
“Decide your own rule for life” – I think what Ken means here is that non-believes feel that we can make up our own rules for life, contrary to the rules everyone else follows. We all decide our own rules for life. We decide if we will follow the laws of the places where we live. If we are religious, we decide what faith to believe in and consequently follow the rules of that faith. As a non-believer, I choose to follow the laws of where I live. I choose to do good things and avoid bad things because that seems to be the right thing to do. To quote Penn Jilette:
The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero.
“Treat others to benefit you” – I’ve always taught my children to think of others. To help, to share. I tell them that it is the right thing to do. And from a purely practical point of view, if you treat others well, help them, share with them, they will most likely do the same in return. It something that benefits everyone.
“Life is ultimately meaningless” – Only if you make it so. For me, life without God, without an afterlife, is precious. It is precious precisely because it is short and all that I have. Knowing this makes we want to live it to the fullest. It makes me what to spend as much time with the people I love as I can. It makes me want to find out everything I can about the universe. It makes me want to work to help those who are suffering here and now because I know that there isn’t something better awaiting them in another life. Here and now is where we need to take our stand, to make a difference. When here and now is all we have, we have to make the most of it in a way that makes things better for everyone.
My kids may ask, why not just do whatever you want? I would say that I do whatever I want as long as it doesn’t hurt or take away from anyone else because that would be wrong. If they ask how I know that is wrong, I tell them the Golden Rule (which long predates the Bible and shows up in secular sources as well as religious): Don’t do anything to someone else you would want them to do to you. Or the flip side of that, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I think I like the second one best because it assumes a positive action. Not just avoiding doing harm to others, but actively doing good.
Believers or not, we all act selfishly at times and do things that are wrong by the standards of others and our own. But, knowing there is a God who disapproves doesn’t stop believers from doing wrong anymore that not believing in God does. Considering that most people in the country are professed believers, there are a whole lot of religious people doing wrong and their belief in God isn’t stopping them so that tells me that it isn’t really that effective a deterrent. We all do wrong in spite of knowing it is wrong, not matter where we get that sense of wrong from.
My knowing that this is the only life I have IS a positive message. It informs everything that I do. I love more deeply, engage in things more passionately, take nothing and no-one for granted. Everything is of vital importance because tomorrow may never come and there are no do-overs.
That is my message from this atheist to any and all kids.