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.