I Don't Believe In Heaven
My great aunt died two weeks ago. I didn’t take my 7- and 4-year old children to the funeral. I had a hard enough time seeing my father cry as he spoke the words his sister had written in memory—I couldn’t imagine my sensitive older daughter trying to cope with the sadness in that lofty church. My littlest one occasionally tells me at bed time, “I don’t want you to die, Mommy.” (Then again, she doesn’t want me to go to the grocery store without her, either.)
I believe young children fear death because they don't understand it. We tell them about God and heaven and angels to make them—and ourselves—feel better about the losses of loved ones we all face in our lives. My parenting dilemma is this: I don't believe in heaven. I stopped believing in heaven at sixteen, shortly after I stopped believing in hell. How do I reassure a child using a world view I don’t agree with?
On the brink of death, some have brought back reports of lights, beloved ancestors surrounding them, and feelings of peace. Could that be heaven? I think it has more to do with the way in which our brains die. Stroke victims with damage to the right side of the brain describe that same sense of peace and connection, a loss of boundaries. Neural scientists have covered the shaved heads of monks with countless electrodes to see what patterns their brains make while they focus inward in the deepest states of meditation. What appears on the monitors, and what the monk describes himself “seeing” is a tiny point of light. The monk isn't dying—his mind's energy is focused. Why do we see that same point of light when we die?
The brain is so complex, perhaps its energy takes longer to dissipate, caught up in the synapses, unable to liberate itself. Like heat on a cloud-filled night, long-wave, infrared energy unable to escape its atmospheric bounds, reflected by tiny droplets of water back to the ground. It does escape, eventually. The electrical impulses that allow our hearts to beat and our brains to work cease to fire. And our minds do die. But are we seeing heaven as that happens? I’m talking about testable science here, friends, not faith.Continued on the next page