Six-year-olds are fickle little things. In the last year and a half, Maxine has gone back and forth numerous times on the whole religious faith thing. For a long time, she divided her week up as follows: “I believe in God three days, and I don’t believe in God two days.” (I never bothered telling her there were actually seven days in the week; logic was obviously not what she was going for.)
When last we spoke about it, Maxine had decided she was both Christian and Jewish.
A few months ago, she was sitting at her kindergarten table. (You know the ones — those super-low-to-the-ground tables with those itty bitty chairs? The ones that make you want to throw up they're so cute? It was one of those.) This was around Christmas, and the eight kids seated at this particular table were talking about God. One by one, each voiced their belief in God — except Maxine, who said that thing about believing three days and not believing two days.
“But everyone in the class believes in God,” one child told her.
“No, they don’t,” Maxine countered.
And then this:
“Kids who don’t believe in God go to a very, very bad school.”
There it was.
You want to know what’s worse than a fiery pit of hell to a kindergartner? A very, very bad school, that’s what.
Luckily for us, Maxine is already one skeptical little chick. She once heard a song on the radio called "A World of Happiness" and demanded we shut it off because a world of happiness would be wrong. "People," she insisted, "need to be sad sometimes."
So, yeah, she's not the sort of person who believes everything she hears, which may have been our saving grace during the God conversation. When she heard the "bad school" scenario, it didn't make much sense to her. And it didn't take much to convince her that the little girl at her table couldn't possibly have known the religious convictions of all 24 kids in her class.
But the whole thing stung her a little. And it stung me, too.
I’ll be devoting some of my book, of course, to dealing with this particularly sticky issue in secular parenting. What should parents do or say when their children get told they're going to hell? What are the best ways to protect and prepare kids for this almost-inevitable scenario? Moreover, how do we counteract the negative scare tactics involved in religion without treating the entirety of religion as something to oppose or fear?
I'm eager to hear from you on this one. Have any of your children been told they're going to hell? What happened? How did your child handle it? And how did you?