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Conversations about Hell with a Six Year Old

My 6 year old loves when I have deep conversations with him. Well the other night we got into one about heat/cold, light/dark, good/evil. I started out with the physical things to lead him into the latter conversation, which was my main goal because of something he said about good and bad when we were reading a book together.

So I pointed out for him that some people conceive of heat and cold as independent “things” and to make it hotter, you add more heat; to make it colder you add more cold. But I said that implies you could potentially make it as hot as you wanted–just add a bit more heat, and it gets hotter. There is no upper limit. And that if cold was some “thing” then you could keep getting colder forever, just add more cold. But then I asked him, what if there is just one thing, and the other is the absence of it? Which one is the real thing? So he says, “heat!” and I said, right–you can keep adding heat to make it hotter; but to make it colder you remove heat (then we digressed into a discussion of negative numbers: how you can do subtraction by adding a negative number to a positive one; and so on). That’s why, when you have removed all the heat there is, you can’t make it any colder: it’s absolute zero. (That led to a tangential discussion of the Fahrenheit, Celsius, Centigrade, and Kelvin scales.)

So he got the idea right away. Then we explored others: light/dark, etc. I tried to find examples of where this works and where it doesn’t. One that works is speed (as a scalar)–once you stop, remove all speed, you can’t slow down any more. (This led to a tangent about relativity: I explained that for speed while you can keep adding more, and go faster each time, there is an upper limit: c, the speed of light; although you approach it asymptotically so that in a sense you can always increase your speed a bit more.)

Then I went to the realm of ethics, in particular good and evil. We toyed with the idea that good is the real thing, and evil is just the absence of good. And that God, likewise (or Heaven), is the real thing, but “Hell” is just the lack of being with God. That lead to a tangential discussion of a passage in Lewis’s The Last Battle, where, during armageddon, Lewis illustrated the animals confronting Aslan (Jesus) at the gates to Aslan’s country (Heaven), and if they saw his face and smiled, they went in; if they were afraid, they became dumb animals and fled into the dark wilderness. Here is the idea that Hell is just the absence of being in God’s presence, as I was taught in Catholic school religion class. So here, too, is a case of the idea of one real thing: heaven/God/love, and you either have it, or not: there is not actual evil force or thing or substance. (This is also in a way what Rand believes as exemplified in Atlas Shrugged: the idea that evil is basically impotent.) (This Narnia excursion led us to go grab The Silver Chair and re-read my favorite passage from all of Lewis’s books, which we had read together months earlier, but which I re-read from time to time.)

Anyway, I’m getting to the point. When we were talking about this idea, that Hell is not a real place, but just means the absence-of-Heaven, of course we discussed the conventional view: good people die and go to Heaven; bad people die and go to Hell. My boy said, well, what happens? I said, well, Satan tortures them. My son says, “Why?” I said, well, Satan is bad, so he likes to torture people, I guess. My boy said, asking a question that struck me because I had never thought of it this way before: “But I don’t get it. Why would he torture people on his team?” And I have to say, he sort of stumped me.

I love the minds of children.

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{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Kim Ringsmose April 22, 2010, 4:21 pm

    Wonderful age.

    According to the bible, Hell was made for the devil and her minions, (being gender sensitive) so she probably is not going to have a lot of fun.

  • terrymac April 22, 2010, 9:27 pm

    Kids are delightful because they have not yet been trained to not ask the interesting questions, the ones which stump too many adults.

  • Andrew April 23, 2010, 7:14 am

    The other side to the Good/Evil analysis. What if evil were the real thing and good was just an absence of evil? Maybe heaven is just the lack of Satan. In which case, the ultimate good would be the complete lack of the metaphysical. For god to be god he would have to be nothing.

    Or we could just realize that social sciences can’t be quantified the same way as physical science. Empiricism can only go so far. Might be a good time to teach your kid that it is okay to say “I don’t know.” That is where all knowledge starts, after all.

  • Marcel Doru Popescu April 23, 2010, 7:16 am

    Hmm… it’s weird that it got you stumped 🙂 Why did Mao torture people in his own country? He liked the feeling of power, I guess, and didn’t have many Americans handy.

  • Nielsio April 23, 2010, 9:00 am

    Why can’t death just be the absence of life? Before you were born you had an absence of life, and so it’s the same when you’ve died.

    You say that evil is the absence of good. I can agree with that. Good then is mutual cooperation and respect between intelligent beings. But then you invoke God as the state of having/being good. I would like it if you introduced the idea that we can have and be good because we understand the benefits and have internalized the benefits.

    This means that God (‘good’) doesn’t have to be a literal thing, but can also be a metaphorical realization.

    Much of Hans Hoppe’s work has been on this (see: The Reason To Peacefully Cooperate, by Hans Hoppe — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYbuuf5fnck ). If you leave this out then I think you are not being true to the scholarship that you side with.

  • Andrew April 23, 2010, 10:15 am

    You are absolutely right. I should have done it that way. I was thinking of Heaven as a real place and hell as the absence of good, god and Satan being opposites. So when I tried to reverse the line of thought I assumed Hell was real, therefore Satan, and heaven, and god, were just less evil. Made a few to many assumptions there.

    I’m a fan of Hoppe, though I admit it’s been awhile. His books are pretty far down my reading list since it isn’t my field of study. I read the Myth of National Defense awhile ago so its been awhile.

    Thanks for the write up, by the way. Sounds like you have a real smart kid there.

  • Stephan Kinsella April 23, 2010, 11:59 am

    Thanks all for the comments.

    A few replies.

    Re the somewhat-serious comments about the nature of God etc.–I’m not a believer; and the incident was about how kids think; we were discussing it just to explore concepts. To stretch my kid’s mind and conceptual thinking. It wasn’t really about God or hell etc. That was not the point.

    Andrew: “Or we could just realize that social sciences can’t be quantified the same way as physical science. Empiricism can only go so far. Might be a good time to teach your kid that it is okay to say “I don’t know.” That is where all knowledge starts, after all.”

    This is a bit serioso. I am well aware of the problems of monism-empiricism. That does not prevent analogies and metaphorical thinking. And of course, saying “I don’t know” is okay. We were thinking about the nature of good; and related matters. Imaginative thinking and discussion is a good thing.

    Nielsio: “Much of Hans Hoppe’s work has been on this (see: The Reason To Peacefully Cooperate, by Hans Hoppe — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYbuuf5fnck ). If you leave this out then I think you are not being true to the scholarship that you side with.”

    I have no idea what you are talking about. I’m the world’s biggest Hoppe fan, as is widely known. Some of you guys are being wwayy too serioso about this.

  • nikki May 12, 2010, 6:53 am

    Since God is not the author of evil, then Satan, as a created being by God, could not have been wicked.

    • Drepa Rugl April 13, 2015, 4:44 pm

      Why could God not have created something that has a will of its own to choose good OR evil? This would also make the creation of man not possible or the free will of man nonexistent. I just don’t understand why an entity that created something that acts of its own volition is then responsible for all the actions of the created actor. Are all parents responsible for their children’s actions long after they left the home the children were raised in? Ha. Nonsense!

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