my approach is to always say "this is what i have determined based on the evidence, if you want me to change my mind, show me evidence that i should". there is a right and wrong, evidence will show which is which, not all views deserve equal respect. but i cannot emphasise enough that living this way WILL give you grief in life. whether or not you treat people with respect they don't deserve depends on whether you value truth over feelings, yours or other people's.
but even so, it's important to take no joy in upsetting other people. if you think that it is important that someone knows the truth, even if it upsets them, that is admirable. but the instant you start enjoying upsetting them, not only are you just generally being mean, but it puts your own judgement in question. such a person will get the same joy from hurting people by saying untrue things.
i think basically what i'm saying is, you don't have to be sugarcoated, treating claims with no evidence as equal to claims with evidence, but you also don't have to be barbed, and take joy in upsetting people. not everything deserves respect, but everyone deserves civility.
am i making sense?
It's not surprising that your son didn't know what was the appropriate thing to say to someone that is grieving (after all even adults have trouble with this). I would apologize to your friends and let them know that he he hasn't had much experience with death and didn't know that what he said was insensitive and that you are working on helping him develop empathy. You don't have to apologize for your son's belief (or rather, lack of), don't even mention it.
For your son, I would explain that the friends are really sad and believing that their grandfather is in heaven helps them be less sad and that sometimes we don't say what we are thinking because it would be hurtful. Then maybe talk to him about what he can do to help his friends feel comforted that still honors his opinion of no heaven.
Hi Stephanie - my son is also just turning 6 and he's also named Zane. Too funny. Kids will mimic their parents so if at home you are being adamant about the atheism, he is picking up on that and repeating it without really necessarily understanding the implications of it. My son will assert all sorts of things as true that he doesn't know much about - like Hitler is a jerk and the Conquistadors were jerks because they killed all the native american indians, that sort of thing. They are prone to blanket statements that lack nuance. With religion, my son declares himself to be whatever the religion is he is currently learning about. He's six and is not really in a position to be anything yet as he hasn't thought it through.
Having your 6 yr old say things like there is no god or heaven is probably only causing your friends to wonder what you are teaching him at home. And you are clearly teaching him atheism. If they are religious, they are going to be worried about that.
My guess is that if you are just coming into proud and out atheism, you might be a little adamant about that and your son is picking up on that. You know how to moderate for situations, he doesn't. My advice is to not be so adamant around him. We have told our son it's ok for him to believe whatever he wants. We feel our goal is not to indoctrinate him into atheism. Our goal is to teach him morals and to give him a good religious education, in terms of teaching him about the different beliefs out there.
But basically, it comes down to this. If you want him to be religiously tolerant, you need to model that. Not just when you are talking to other people. But when you are discussing religion in the privacy of your own home.
Try reading Raising Freethinkers by Dale McGowan - it will help you with your perspective about how to help your kids navigate these things.
Best of luck and cool to meet another mom with another Zane who's 6.
Thanks for all the responses! :)
@Egan: Thanks for the clarification. My son is exactly what you descibed. While I will be fine if he chooses to express himself about it, I do worry about his social life, especially since he is still so young and only in Kindergarten.
@Dawn: I did handle the whole 'no heaven' situation as you described. The incident also coincided with our transition out of a xtian lifestyle. The suggestion of another way for him to console his friends is a great idea though, so thanks for that!
@Jennifer: I can totally see how all this sounds like I preach Atheism to my son, and my friends most definitely think the same way, although I have told them different. The truth is I have never said to my son 'There is no God' or 'There is no heaven' or 'The Bible is a book of fables'. We did attend church for almost 6 months- from Nov of 10 till Apr of 11. I volunteered in the childrens ministry, so basically what my children were learning was: Jesus is God God loves you The bible is the word of God Jesus loves you God made the sun and moon etc. After we stopped attending Zane asked questions about God and I just said I dont know and Im not sure. Then one day he asked me if heaven was real, I said. Some people believe in heaven, but Mommy doesn't think it's real. From then, he has taken my opinions as his own and come to the conclusion that all he learned in sunday school is bullshit (what can I say? he's a smart one). I don't ever speak about my non-belief in front of him or when he's in ear shot, but I never lie about it when he asks me direct questions about religion. My husband and I have agreed to raise our boys as freethinkers and I will always open them up to new ideas and let them form their own opinions when they're old enough to decide for themselves. I did read Raising Freethinkers, and I loved it btw :)
I think you may want to stop necessarily providing answers like "Mommy thinks this." Instead, guide him to actually reach his own conclusion. Ask him questions to guide/show him how to evaluate the situation, judge the possibilities, and make a rational decision. This will benefit him far more than any other lesson you could give him anyways.
Religion isn't even the silliest thing people believe in, so I agree with the "some people believe" lead in... though I'd parse that a little further myself, based on the fact the people believe in some crazy crap. I'm one who doesn't think it's okay to believe anything you want, and in fact believing in some things, take say salvation religion, does far more harm than good.
The main thing that caught my attention in your post, is the causing a rift between you and your friends. You have to be honest with your children, and encourage them to be honest. This isn't a question of respect, it's a question of judgement. Being honest shows far better judgement than believing in fairy tales. We shouldn't mistake the fear of confrontation for respect of other opinions. Those are two different things.
If your honesty, and your encouragement of honesty in your children is causing rifts with your friends, you may need to reevaluate your friendships. I know this is difficult, but if I have to choose between compromising my values and capitulation... I'll choose my values, every time.
"Its better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." — Emiliano Zapata
Good luck... Zane sounds like a smart kid, you should be fine in the long run.
I think I was about 6 or 7 when I found this book my Grandmother had that was written for small children. It was trying to explain God to small children. They'd ask a question like why can't I see him. Then the book would explain that he was all seeing/knowing, etc. I asked my Grandma some very pointed questions about that book, and was skeptical from earrrrrly on. You are never too young to question the obvious. I believed more in Santa than God at that age, at least SANTA brought presents I could OPEN! Even if I never saw him, there was evidence to MY 6 year old mind.
But 6 is really to young to truly understand empathy, but never too young to start teaching it. I see this age as the age of total honesty and every thought that falls through their head comes out their mouth! Enjoy it, next comes the 'Hey, I can lie to my folks and lightening doesn't strike!" phase!