Looking for advice on this issue with my 6-yo son. He asked the question for the first time and I am unsure how to explain my view point
because this child is very sharp and will share
his new knowledge with anyone who will listen
to him and will continually ask more and more
questions. (this will definately push me out of the "athiest closet". Any advice?
I wouldn't want to be in your shoes. That said, you could try explaining to him that some people believe there is a man living somewhere we can't see and that he runs the world. Some people believe he runs the world a little differently. Some people believe there are a bunch of them and some have interesting disfigurements, like a shitload of arms or an elephant's head. You could say some don't believe any of this, but if he's sharp, he should probably understand that from the usage of "some". You should be in the clear if you don't tell him what your personal thoughts are. If he does ask that, I don't know what to do.
When all else fails try the truth. Tell him there is no god. That god is an imaginary being like Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. Children have no trouble facing the truth if they haven't been misled previously. Teach your child how to tell the different between fiction and reality by examining the facts. Ask him if mommy exist. Can he see you, touch you, hear you and feel your love for him? Then ask him if he can see god, touch him, hear him or feel any love. He will quickly grasp the idea that god is nonexistent. Don't worry. He'll still enjoy Sesame Street and imaginary play things--just as we adults enjoy our imaginary play things.
i myself been thinking a lot latelly about this now that my wife if pregnant with my first! and i would begin by explaining how the belief of god started, how people tried to explain what they didn't understanded, how they tought the sun was their god etc..
i think kids are non-biased and do UNDERSTAND the facts
I would start by explaining to him that a long time ago, people looked at the world around them and there were many things they didn't understand. They didn't understand where rain came from, what rainbows were, how volcanoes worked and so on. They decided that the best explanation was that someone must be living up in the sky, making rain and rainbows and causing volcanoes to erupt. So god is the being who is said to have created the world and everything in it, as well as the stars and planets we see when we look at the night sky.
I'm afraid that most children don't want the in-depth version that I'd like to give them, usually "the thing that made everything" is answer enough, but you could use this interest to begin his religious education.
You could expose him to various creation stories and say here is what the Egyptians believed, look at these drawings of their gods, this is what they think happened when you die and then go through all the major religions in this way, comparing them to each other. When you discuss beliefs that are still current, you can point out that some people today still believe in this god and these stories.
I like Prazzie's explanation-- that's pretty much the one I gave my daughters: people didn't use to have science to explain how the world worked or how it all began, and so they thought that there was a man in the sky who made it all. Of course, the man is just imaginary, and lots of different countries have lots of different ideas of what this god (or gods) looks like. Then I purchased a few books about evolution, and that seems to be where we're at right now. I will go farther with it as they get older and make sure they are aware of other religions and why they don't make any sense.
Sorry you're still in the "atheist closet," too, by the way. It's unfortunate we even have to have one. I encourage you to break free, even if it's baby steps. By living in these "closets," we're sending the message that we are ashamed of our beliefs and making the religious feel stronger and more righteous. It's ridiculous. You can be atheist and not in-your-face. Nor do things ever have to be confrontational. If I don't wish to debate my beliefs with someone, I just say so.
I remember when my son was 4, he woke me up in the middle of the night and asked "Dad, if God created man, who created God? I told him to go back to bed...
He was going to a Presbyterian preschool at the time, and I wasn't ready to have the whole philosophical discussion with him. Over time we did talk about these issues. I would explain that some people believe this and some people believe that and here is what I believe. He has become an atheist all on his own, but has never had an issue with any of his faithful friends.
I really like Prazzie's explanation. It's very very close to the explanation I plan on giving my future children when the discussion inevitably comes up. It's informative without too many confusing details. I'd just give that explanation and then let them ask questions until they're satisfied.
I feel you on the "Atheist Closet." I'm still sort-of "in" myself. :-/ I live in the deep south and coming out as an atheist here, one is likely to hear a few people yell "Devil worshipper!" and see mothers hiding their children. I actually "came out" to my (very religious, very right-wing) older sister recently and it didn't go so well. It's hard, but you shouldn't have to hide.