My 7-year-old daughter has been thinking quite a bit about death lately.
She told me she doesn’t want to lose any more of her baby teeth because that means she’s going to grow up, and she doesn’t want to grow up because that means she’s going to die. Pretty good logic.
Well, apparently, the death thing came up at a playdate over the weekend because, in the car this morning, Maxine asked: “Is it true that people who believe in God live longer than people who don’t believe in God?”
My husband and I hesitated ever-so-slightly.
Wanting to go about the question delicately, I gave my standard initial response to religious stuff:
“Hmmm. What do you think about that?”
At which point Charlie, who has always been a bit more direct than I am, offered up his own response to Maxine’s question:
“That’s not true.”
And it wasn’t. And, frankly, there was no reason to beat around the bush about it.
Sometimes I worry about dismissing religious ideas too quickly and giving Maxine the impression that the people who say these things aren’t intelligent or worthy of respect. But then I realize there’s a limit to my sensitivity. When asked a direct question to which I know the answer, it’s my job to respond honestly.
Do people who believe in God live longer than non-believers? No. No, they don’t. Is the Earth 6,000 years old. No. No, it’s not. Next question.
Daddy’s answer seemed to satisfy Maxine immediately, but she became quiet for minute — thinking over the concept that God might intentionally shave years off a person’s life. As some of you know already, she herself is a sometimes-believer. For the past two years, she’s taken the position that she believes in God some days and not other days. But no matter what day it is, she speaks of God with reverence. She would no more say something mean about God than she would kick a newborn kitten in the face.
Then she came out of her pensive state and shook her head.
“Why would God care if people believe in him? Why would he even care?”
And that I loved.
I remember having a similar revelation myself in my youth. (Maybe you do, too). God is portrayed as this big, invisible presence who never, ever shows himself to humans. How could someone like that blame a person for doubting his existence? “If God is good,” I remember asking myself, “he won’t punish me for not believing.”
I was 18 years old at the time. Eleven years older than Maxine is now.
It’s ironic, really, that this kid wants so badly to slow her growth. Because she’s growing up so fast.