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How do you explain the concept of God to a child who has had no exposure to religion?


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#1 FeralFerretOfDoom

Posted 11 January 2013 - 05:34 PM

This has been playing on my mind for a few weeks now.

We are not a religious household. DH is an athiest and I'm a lapsed Christian who is probably more an agnostic these days.

Our kids have had no exposure to religion, but I have no objection to them learning about it.

We had an advent calendar this year which was a nativity scene, and I started trying to explain the story behind it to DS before getting hopelessly lost in how to explain the "Son of God" idea to a child who didn't know what "God" means.

I ended up just explaining that the baby was going to be a very good man who would help people, and kind of glossed over the God part of it.

But it's left me wondering how on earth you explain the concept of God to someone who has no exposure to it?

I don't want to teach my child that God is either real or false - I just want to be able to explain the concept.

Any ideas?

Edited by WootFerretOfDoom, 12 January 2013 - 03:22 PM.


#2 la di dah

Posted 11 January 2013 - 05:43 PM

I guess the same way anyone explains other religions to their kids?

It seems like if an atheist has to explain [pulls number out of butt] 945 religions they don't believe in, a religious parent still has to explain 944?

I don't believe in Jesus but of course I'm not going to send a kid out into the world having never heard of him, as that's not real functional for Western society. So I'd go the culurally relativistic "this is what some people believe..." route.

I would probably start with Creation beliefs from different religions from around the world? Stressing that different people believe different things and that's okay. I'd probably try to get a polytheistic faith in there too, and specifically address that some people believe in many gods, some in one, and some in none.

#3 Country (deci)Mel

Posted 11 January 2013 - 05:47 PM

"God is the name that people give to explain things too wonderful, too amazing, too complicated to understand.

To help themselves understand people like to say that 'God' made them.

You know that feeling you get sometimes when you are having the best day ever? When you are somewhere really beautiful and you feel like everything is just great couldn't be any better?

Well some people like to say that that is because of 'God'.

Because they believe that God brings all the good things, and makes everything they want to please this God person - so they have people who are 'experts' in understanding what God would want them to do.. they are called Priests, Ministers, Rabbis, Muftis etc. etc. they tell the people what they think God want's them to do..

This makes some people feel secure.

We don't do that in our family - we just appreciate things for being beautiful and wonderful just because they are."

#4 cinnabubble

Posted 11 January 2013 - 05:51 PM

This is how Christmas went in our house --

Me: so, Mary was married to Joseph, but pregnant to God. Jesus was born in a stable because there was nowhere else to stay. When Jesus was born, God shone a star over the stable to let people know his son had been born.
Miss Six: could God make a star do that?
Me: yes sweetie.. Some people believe God can do anything.
Miss six: can he kill himself?
Me:  blink.gif blink.gif  

Easter
Me: tells story of crucifixion etc govt doesn't like what Jesus is saying, they nailed him to a cross, he died, they put him in a cave and he came back to life three days later.
Miss Five: mummy, how big were the nails they put through his hands?
Me: Well, my knowledge of early Roman carpentry is fairly limited ...

Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Edited by cinnabubble, 11 January 2013 - 05:52 PM.


#5 katrina24

Posted 11 January 2013 - 05:55 PM

At this stage, my two children believe even though DH and I do not.  We have talked about a lot of different creation stories and that no one knows the 'truth' but many people have strong beliefs.  I have shared my belief (scientific).  I also purchased a children's bible and a book about different religions around the world (you could use the library though). We read them together and discuss them. They have both decided they believe in the Christian creation story and God.

#6 No-pants Agnodice

Posted 11 January 2013 - 05:56 PM

We explained 'God' to the 3.5 year old as a 'superhero' that some people believe is real. And some people believe in 'superheroes' with different names and different powers, but they're all 'superheroes'.



#7 IsolaBella

Posted 11 January 2013 - 06:00 PM

Cinnabubble we had similar questions..


"So was Jesus happy when they nailed him to the cross"
"If Jesus rose from the dead why can't others"
"Is God still alive"

And the whole Jesus, Mary, Joseph relationship is fun.

This is coming from child going to Catholic School (parents lapsed Catholics).

So we don't have a huge focus on God in our household and trying to explain for school etc is hard.

Also very happy for them to learn other religions and views around the world.



#8 Fyn Angelot

Posted 11 January 2013 - 06:12 PM

My instinct would definitely be to start with the idea of God as creator, if you're looking to explain the Jesus story.  I think that's helpful too because it's common ground for the Abrahamic faiths.  (And after all, if it was a good enough starting point for the compilers of the Bible...  wink.gif )



#9 CallMeFeral

Posted 11 January 2013 - 06:22 PM

QUOTE (cinnabubble @ 11/01/2013, 06:51 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
This is how Christmas went in our house --

Me: so, Mary was married to Joseph, but pregnant to God. Jesus was born in a stable because there was nowhere else to stay. When Jesus was born, God shone a star over the stable to let people know his son had been born.
Miss Six: could God make a star do that?
Me: yes sweetie.. Some people believe God can do anything.
Miss six: can he kill himself?
Me:  blink.gif blink.gif  

Easter
Me: tells story of crucifixion etc govt doesn't like what Jesus is saying, they nailed him to a cross, he died, they put him in a cave and he came back to life three days later.
Miss Five: mummy, how big were the nails they put through his hands?
Me: Well, my knowledge of early Roman carpentry is fairly limited ...


roll2.gif

Now whenever DS gets into my arms in kind of a baby-like position, he says "I'm baby cheeses" huh.gif
Blasphemy and mispronunciation in just 3 words!
DD, when I told her about Jesus coming to earth, wanted to know when he was coming to our house. So I had to explain that he grew up and died, and that Easter, which she might remember from all the chocolate eggs etc,  is actually about him dying.
Then she wanted to know why he died from all the chocolate.  ohmy.gif


#10 Canberra Chick

Posted 11 January 2013 - 06:41 PM

We have explained to DS that some people believe in a god, which they believe is an all powerful being who made the world and the universe. To which DS replied, but that's a bit silly, isn't it?

He was also a bit taken aback to hear that three out of his four grandparents believe in a god, sort of along the lines of 'but they seem so normal'. We have explained that for some people believing in a god makes them feel happier.

#11 NunSoFeral

Posted 11 January 2013 - 06:42 PM

QUOTE (cinnabubble @ 11/01/2013, 05:51 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Easter
Me: tells story of crucifixion etc govt doesn't like what Jesus is saying, they nailed him to a cross, he died, they put him in a cave and he came back to life three days later.
Miss Five: mummy, how big were the nails they put through his hands?
Me: Well, my knowledge of early Roman carpentry is fairly limited ...

Damned if you do and damned if you don't.


I see what you did there.

After recounting the crucifixion, burial and ascension into heaven, DS1 looked horrified and asked "So Jesus was a sort of zombie then" huh.gif

We go on historical record - i.e there was a man called Jesus from a place called Nazareth who fought injustice and inequality. He stuck up for the vulnerable people and tried to do good things. He inspired a lot of people. The bible is a sort of coda for a way of life. Some people believe that he was the son of a God called Jehovah/Yahweh
Other religions have other "god/s/esses" etc.

We're keeping it simple and more factual based at this stage.

Edited by gettheetoanunnery, 11 January 2013 - 06:45 PM.


#12 FeralFerretOfDoom

Posted 11 January 2013 - 09:56 PM

QUOTE (gettheetoanunnery @ 11/01/2013, 07:42 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
After recounting the crucifixion, burial and ascension into heaven, DS1 looked horrified and asked "So Jesus was a sort of zombie then" huh.gif


You've got to love a child who asks if Jesus was a zombie  biggrin.gif

Cinnabubble, we had a similar style of conversation, I was interrupted partway through the story by DS telling me very seriously that we don't have any Josephs in Australia. To which I replied that I'm sure we do, actually, but this particular Joseph lived a very long time ago in a different country.

Countrymel I love your explanation, thanks. It's really about explaining the concept of God, as it's just completely outside of his frame of reference. I think what you say gets the idea across really well.


#13 censura carnero

Posted 11 January 2013 - 10:07 PM

I jus say, "some people believe that"  and explain it.  But they have gone to an anglican school and kindy last year and have said it to me.  WHich I always reply, "yes some people believe that and others believe different things'.

Whey my son asked me why people don't believe in God in the most incredulous, outraged voice. I said that some people just cant understand how there could be a god that would allow some children to be hungry all the time and not have a mummy or a daddy that loved them and no toys and other children had all those things.  My son was silent for about 30 seconds and then said, "That doesn't make sense mummy.  I don't believe in God either."

#14 FiveAus

Posted 11 January 2013 - 10:11 PM

It's like having imaginary friends, but you get to keep them when you're grown up, and praying is the same as talking to the voices in your head.

God is like the leader of the gang and he has the loudest voice.

We aren't a religious family. That was the best I could come up with.

#15 Feral_Pooks

Posted 11 January 2013 - 10:13 PM

I like the idea of telling your child about different creation stories, your local library probably has Adam and Eve and the Rainbow Serpent at least. God as Creator is a pretty good way to start and kind of makes sense, for a kid. And then you can show them a doco, or go to the planetarium and show them the scientific explanation for the beginnings of the world.

Honestly I think the God thing is hard, for any kid, to really understand.

My parents used to tell me we weren't religious, but we were good people, and to judge a person on whether they are good people and nothing else- if they use religion as a guide, that's great (a lot of our friends did) but that religion and being good weren't as interconnected as you might think...

And that I was free to learn and explore and believe whatever I wanted to, so long as I really thought about it first, and so long as I was always trying to be a good person...

I remember a Christian friend (adult) telling me when I was about 8 or 9 that she believed in the contents of the Good Book. I asked her what it was about. She explained, the birth of the son of God, how Jesus taught us to love one another, the love of God, and the death at the cross of Jesus and his resurrection... To which I said, it doesn't sound very Good then, if he was killed. Still intrigued, I read the first bit and said I didn't think the book was very Good at all, and that I much preferred Roald Dahl.

Kids can be quite literal original.gif

#16 meemee75

Posted 11 January 2013 - 10:17 PM

My Miss 4.5 yr old was full of questions  during a catholic Church communion/confirmation of a friends son.
We have also attended a few baptisms.

She was very curious about the church & what they were doing there.

her- "mum, why are those people singing and what is that man ( priest) talking about?"
Me- " he's talking about God"
Her-"Who's god?"
Me- " well some people believe that there is a man who lives in the sky that made everything in the world"
Her-" well that's a bit silly isn't it? ( with a giggle)
Me- " Yes it is sweetie , now stop talking "

laughing2.gif

She has asked me if I believe in God and I told her the truth , which is no I don't.

Both DP & I are Athiest but I was raised a Catholic so have a fairly good understanding of Chrisitan religions if I need to explain anything in the future. I'll try to be factual and  non-judgemental.

#17 censura carnero

Posted 11 January 2013 - 10:20 PM

QUOTE (FiveAus @ 11/01/2013, 10:11 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
It's like having imaginary friends, but you get to keep them when you're grown up, and praying is the same as talking to the voices in your head.

God is like the leader of the gang and he has the loudest voice.

We aren't a religious family. That was the best I could come up with.


Love it!!!  laugh.gif

#18 50ftqueenie

Posted 12 January 2013 - 06:01 AM


QUOTE (countrymel @ 11/01/2013, 06:47 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
"God is the name that people give to explain things too wonderful, too amazing, too complicated to understand.

To help themselves understand people like to say that 'God' made them.

You know that feeling you get sometimes when you are having the best day ever? When you are somewhere really beautiful and you feel like everything is just great couldn't be any better?

Well some people like to say that that is because of 'God'.

Because they believe that God brings all the good things, and makes everything they want to please this God person - so they have people who are 'experts' in understanding what God would want them to do.. they are called Priests, Ministers, Rabbis, Muftis etc. etc. they tell the people what they think God want's them to do..

This makes some people feel secure.

We don't do that in our family - we just appreciate things for being beautiful and wonderful just because they are."



I am so stealing this. DD (4) has asked me what "that building" (a church) is and all I could think to say was "umm, it's where some people like to catch up and sing songs". This of course, has her very excited.  I think your lovely words can help me flesh things out a little more.

#19 FiveAus

Posted 12 January 2013 - 06:13 AM

QUOTE (Ferdinand @ 12/01/2013, 01:00 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
We've been having a lot of god conversations lately.

My explanation went something like this

Some people believe in a man who made the whole universe. They believe he watches over us from the clouds/space and sees everything everyone does. They believe he is a good man who teaches people on earth how to live good lives - how to be nice to each other etc. He does this through stories in a special book called the bible (later went on to explain about different religions having different names for god and the book, but it's all basically the same). For some people, Christmas and Easter are about god, not just presents and chocolate.

I didn't mention the actual xmas or easter stories, they would have gone over his head. I also didn't think he needed to know about all the crap things done in the name of god at this point.

He then wanted to know why god made dinosaurs and if t-rex could eat god.

It then got very silly and he decided a bunch of people he knows (including me) are god. He finally settled on Roy G Biv (a fictional character from a song about rainbows) being god.

I suspect he didn't fully understand, but he's decided he believes in god for now. Which is fine, even though both of his parents and most of his extended family are staunch atheists.

He's 5 1/2.



I like Roy G Biv being god, that's cool. For those that don't know, Roy G Biv is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.....all the colours of the rainbow.

He goes along nicely with our imaginary friends and voices in your head.



#20 Fyn Angelot

Posted 12 January 2013 - 09:25 AM

QUOTE (WootFerretOfDoom @ 11/01/2013, 10:56 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Countrymel I love your explanation, thanks. It's really about explaining the concept of God, as it's just completely outside of his frame of reference. I think what you say gets the idea across really well.


To be honest, and without wanting to attack anyone, I was really uncomfortable with countrymel's explanation.  It came across very much as a God of the gaps, God is in the things we can't understand, take on it...which is a misrepresentation of what people believe, mostly used to attack them for it.

#21 RedBob

Posted 12 January 2013 - 09:40 AM

QUOTE (gettheetoanunnery @ 11/01/2013, 07:42 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
We go on historical record - i.e there was a man called Jesus from a place called Nazareth who fought injustice and inequality. He stuck up for the vulnerable people and tried to do good things. He inspired a lot of people. The bible is a sort of coda for a way of life. Some people believe that he was the son of a God called Jehovah/Yahweh
Other religions have other "god/s/esses" etc.

We've tended towards this take on it because I have a lot of respect for what I know of Jesus the person, but not a whole lot of respect for the church hierarchy that has grown up around him. And then I say that lots of people believe different things, but as long as they're good people, it doesn't matter what they believe.

Unless they're fascists or union busters, of course, in which case they cannot be good people.

#22 FeralFerretOfDoom

Posted 12 January 2013 - 09:42 AM

Take your point Ange. I guess I read it more as that some people believe that God IS that wonderfulness, rather than a convenient explanation for the unknown.

There is a fine line I want to tread here, which is why I'm finding this so hard. I still kind-of identify as Christian, I certainly feel that there is "something" there, I just don't know what.

So I definitely don't want to go down the "imaginary friend" path, which frankly I consider insulting to a large portion of the population with deeply held beliefs, nor do I want to say that God "is". I just want to give him the framework to get the concept, while leaving it open-ended as to whether or not it is actually true.

It's not hugely urgent now, he's forgotten all about our conversation, but with him starting school next month I suspect it's likely to come up again in the not-too-distant future.

Edited by WootFerretOfDoom, 12 January 2013 - 11:20 AM.


#23 Ianthe

Posted 12 January 2013 - 09:43 AM

I am uncomfortable with most of the explanations that people have offered. It doesn't fit my belief or experience of God at all.

I think the "some people believe" line is a good one. My kids have a good handle of who Jesus and the christian God is and understand the basics as we are Christians. But they ask about other religions and that's how we approach it.

You can always find a storybook with some basic biblical stories in it. And tell your kids that some people believe that this actually happened. It's no different to introducing them to myths and legends from other cultures. I don't get the angst and the disrespect so many people show. If it isn't real to you then what's the big deal? You don't need to be disparaging even if it does seem like lunacy to you.

If you want your children to be tolerant, then teach them to be tolerant of religious beliefs.

#24 FeralFerretOfDoom

Posted 12 January 2013 - 09:49 AM

And just to clarify - it's not so much about explaining biblical stories or different religions, I feel pretty comfortable with that.

It's more about the initial building block of the actual concept of God - the existence of a higher being. I find it very hard to explain this concept in a way a 5 year old can understand.

And Ianthe I'm right there with you on the tolerance front. None of us know for sure who is right and who is wrong, we can only go with what we feel to be right. I find intolerance and superiority from any of the camps to be extremely off.

Edited by WootFerretOfDoom, 12 January 2013 - 11:18 AM.


#25 Country (deci)Mel

Posted 12 January 2013 - 10:00 AM

QUOTE (Ange Vert @ 12/01/2013, 10:25 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
To be honest, and without wanting to attack anyone, I was really uncomfortable with countrymel's explanation.  It came across very much as a God of the gaps, God is in the things we can't understand, take on it...which is a misrepresentation of what people believe, mostly used to attack them for it.


To be honest Ange.. I was already cringing as I pressed 'post' knowing you would read it!

I was just trying to write a description, for a child, a child that had grown up with no exposure at all to religion, that would give them an idea of the concept without introducing ideas that could cause them to be disrespectful to people with a religious faith.

Phrases like 'imaginary friend' to me introduce an element of smug scorn which I think is not at all helpful and really rather unattractive in a small child.

There is no glory in being a noisy atheist, they are just as annoying as a proselytising fundamentalist - I think giving children a 'live and let live' approach to belief is best for everyone.

That explanation (sorry that if offended) is one that is sort of based on how I - as a child growing up in a family of regular church goers but surrounded by non church going friends/relatives - would try and explain it to my friends.  Hearing another child say "My Dad reckons it's all crap.." was really confronting to me and caused me a lot of angst.

I was trying to write a simple explanation that would give a child an inkling of why it is so very important to so many people without making them pull out the 'but that's stupid' response.




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