Heaven Is Underground

15 Aug

“Heaven is underground.”

These words were spoken by my five-year-old son James on Saturday. Our discussion about death and the hereafter had been prompted by the fact that it was my late father’s 74th birthday, and we were all feeling a sense of loss.

Up to this point in their lives, my kids have not received any formal religious education. They have both been baptized in the Anglican church, but that was done partly to keep the grandmas happy, and partly to give the kids access to the support system of a church, in case they should ever need it. We did not have them baptized out of any deep-seated religious belief within ourselves.

Now that James has started talking about heaven and hell – a subject that is by no means banned in my household but that has never received much airtime – I am realizing that many non-religious parents who send their kids to Sunday school possibly do so because religion is such a great way of explaining things that we really don’t have a clue about. It is really convenient to be able to say to a child, “When you die, you’ll go to heaven if you’re a <insert name of religion here>, otherwise you will go to hell.” Without religion, it can be tricky to find an explanation that will satisfy kids, or indeed, adults.

I’ve never really been one to believe in heaven and hell myself (the nuns who were responsible for my Catholic school education would be horrified to hear me say that), but I do believe in an afterlife of sorts. There is so much energy contained within a human being, and that energy has to go somewhere when we die. I mean, isn’t it a scientific fact that energy is neither created nor destroyed – it is simply converted from one form to another? Following that reasoning, I believe that lost loved ones – like my Dad – have some kind of presence in this world.

When James told me that heaven is underground, I asked him what he meant.

“Well,” he said solemnly. “When someone dies they get buried. That means heaven must be underground because if it was in the sky, we would shoot the dead people up in rockets.”

Not bad logic for a five-year-old.

I spoke to him about the soul leaving the body, worrying that I was just confusing him further. I needn’t have been concerned – he seemed to catch on to the distinction between body and soul right away, and he launched into an imaginative description of what happens when we die.

“When you die, your soul doesn’t need your body anymore, so it comes out through your tummy. Just like when you have a baby. Your tummy gets bigger and bigger, and then your soul comes out and goes KABOOSH! And your body gets buried and your soul zooms to heaven like a rocket ship. Faster than Lightning McQueen!”

Wow. I had always pictured souls gently drifting to heaven, kind of the like the feather that flits around during the opening and closing sequences of Forrest Gump.

James’ way sounds a lot more exciting. I didn’t try to correct his version of what happens, because what would I correct it to? Who am I to say he is wrong? Maybe the afterlife is a lot more energetic than traditional religion would have us believe.

Here’s my question to all of you. How do you talk to your kids about death, heaven and hell? Do you let them believe their own versions of what happens after death, or do you try to stick with conventional religious beliefs?

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aussiegall/296336966. This photo has a creative commons attribution license.)

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3 Responses to “Heaven Is Underground”

  1. S Club Mama August 15, 2011 at 2:42 PM #

    We haven’t really talked to our kids about death, heaven, hell yet – no one they know has died and so you just don’t think to talk to those things to 2 and 4yos. But when we do teach them about heaven and hell, we’ll stick to, I guess “conventional” beliefs. But that’s what we believe. Not that if you belong to such-and-such-church-or-denomination you’ll go to heaven and everyone else goes to hell. But if you belong to the body of Christ (and by this I mean that you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins and have put your trust in Him to guide your life (and repented and turned from your sinful ways…the best we humanly can) then yes, you’ll go to heaven when you pass (that’s what the Bible says) and if you choose to not trust in Jesus Christ’s salvation, then, unfortunately, you choose hell (same with not making a choice one way or the other – there’s no fence post). It’s a hard choice for people to make but I want my children to understand that their choices have eternal consequences.

    • Noella Thomas August 15, 2011 at 10:34 PM #

      Kirsten, I love his response, “then your soul comes out and goes KABOOSH! And your body gets buried and your soul zooms to heaven like a rocket ship. Faster than Lightning McQueen!”

      But I tend to believe like S Club Mama. I differ with her in that I also believe Heaven or Hell begins right here on earth and at the rate the world is going, I believe we’re mostly in Hell right now. Heaven is obtaining that peace that transcends all. But I would find that difficult to explain to a five-year-old.

    • runningforautism August 16, 2011 at 4:02 PM #

      You’re both right, this just isn’t a topic you think to talk to your kids about until someone they know actually dies. James, at only five, is still too young to really appreciate the permanence of death, but I know his understanding will evolve and continue to mature as he gets older. And what I tell him has to evolve right along with it. It’s just one of those areas of parenting that we just have to figure out as we’re going along.
      I’m not big on traditional religion myself, but I really do commend people like you who not only observe a religion, but truly live it and set a positive example for their kids. It’s the people who preach a religion but fail to practice it that do my head in.
      Thanks for the comment!

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