My 6-year-old likes to talk about God. She delights in the idea that the Big Guy upstairs made everything she sees around her. And she’s eager to explore why some people believe this, and others don’t.
I do my best to explore along with her, but sometimes my best isn't great. I misspeak and have to backtrack. Or I complicate matters more than necessary. But Maxine never seems to hold it against me, and our conversations usually fluctuate between amusing and downright enchanting.
Below is an example of one of our recent chats. I should tell you ahead of time that it might better be appreciated as a drinking game. So if you happen to have a glass of single malt scotch nearby — and if you don't, why the hell not? — try taking a drink whenever you notice things getting messy and/or whenever my kid says something cute.
I promise you: There are worse ways to get drunk.
DAUGHTER: Some people believe God is taller than the clouds.
ME: What do you think?
DAUGHTER: I think I don’t know. I don't believe too much but a little bit.
ME: You believe in him a little bit?
DAUGHTER: After I get bigger, I won't believe in him too much.
ME: How come do you think?
DAUGHTER: I don’t know. When you get bigger, some people don’t believe in God too much.
ME: Who said that?
ME: You just know that?
DAUGHTER: It’s myself who told me. Or Ben told me.
ME: Oh, okay. I doubt it was Ben. Ben believes in God. Ben is Jewish, and that's another kind of religion. Christian is a kind of religion, and Jewish is a kind of religion, and Muslim is a kind of religion and Hindu is a kind of religion.
DAUGHTER: What’s Ben again?
ME: Jewish. He’s Jewish.
DAUGHTER: What am I?
ME: Well, let me tell you this. Ben's family is Jewish. And I think he has decided to be Jewish, too, but he’s just a little kid, so he has time to make up his mind—
DAUGHTER: Am I Jewish?
ME: You are whatever you are. Well, you know what? Here’s the thing about Judaism. It’s a different kind of religion that—
DAUGHTER: What’s religion?
ME: Religion? Religion is a set of beliefs about the world and about God. Like, if you’re one religion you might believe in God, but you might believe in a certain kind of God. If you’re another religion, you might believe in God, but you might believe in a different kind of God. And if you are no religion, then you wouldn’t believe in God at all. Or, well, that’s not — actually, I take that back. You might believe in God and believe in your own kind of God, and then you wouldn't be part of a religion. You would just be what we call "spiritual"... That’s the neat thing about beliefs, is that everyone has the right to believe what they want. So it’s okay that Ben believes in a Jewish God. And it’s okay that Uncle Scott believes in a Christian God. And it’s okay that Taj believes in Hindu gods. Because in Hinduism, there’s not just one god, there are lots of gods. It’s a neat world that we live in. That people can believe whatever they want. Did you know that some people fight over their beliefs? Did you know that? Some people fight over their religions.
ME: Well, because they think their religion is better than the other religions. That you should believe one thing, and not believe another. And so they end up fighting about it.
DAUGHTER: That’s not very good.
ME: No, it's not very good at all. That’s a bad thing. And even people who don’t believe in God? Sometimes they fight with people who do believe in God. Isn't that terrible?
DAUGHTER: Yeah. You know what? When some people believe in God, they can’t say, “Hey you! Do you want to fight with believing in God?" That’s not good.
ME: No, it's not. My feeling is that people should believe whatever they want to believe, but they shouldn’t fight about it.
DAUGHTER: Because you know why?
DAUGHTER: God is going to get mad. And you know what? Some people believe that God pushes a button and it makes people die sometimes.
ME: Oh, is that right?
ME: Yeah, I think that’s right, Max. Some people believe that God has the ability to give life and take it away, right?
DAUGHER: Yeah. And Nana and Papa believe that when you die, you come back alive in God's world.
ME: Oh, in God’s world — in heaven. Yeah, that’s right. That’s really, really right.
DAUGHTER: They believe that people go to heaven and that they are awake in heaven instead of California or Sweden or Kansas or any of those places.