The Four Proofs of Heaven
My son is explaining the Four Proofs of Heaven again. This has become a daily ritual as I drive him to school. Now six years old, my son has long been obsessed with Heaven.Our family is not without spirituality, but we have no predictable regimen of church-going or religious study. Still, my son is pre-occupied by the question of an Afterlife.I suppose it's natural for any child to muse on such matters. And I think he persists in describing the Four Proofs to me, because I'm the only person in his life who has stood up against the idea of Heaven.Here's the routine scene. As we leave the driveway, he pulls down the passenger side visor, exposing the visor mirror. Next, he sprays his long blonde hair with water and brushes his bedhead locks into place. This is his own system; he created this spraybottle attack. Here's a kid whose hair hygiene used to be, well, a bit slack. Last summer, with his long, knotted hair, bare feet, and constant shirtlessness, he looked like a beach boy surfer lost in a Charles Dickens novel.Now, he sculpts his hair into place with the precision of a safecracker. And all the while, he's pontificating on his self-dubbed "Four Proofs of Heaven." Proof Number One: Ghosts exist. He knows. He's apparently seen one.Proof Number Two: Angels exist. His big sister claims to have seen one; he believes her.Proof Number Three: People die "on the table" and come back. He's referring to people who temporarily die on the operating table or in the emergency room, and return to life to dazzle us with images of Heaven.Proof Number Four goes something like this: All the teachings of Jesus Christ are true.Early on, my son was titillated by images of Christ on the cross. He'd ask me: Who's that bummed guy?For years, he knew Jesus as "that bummed guy," and so when he finally began to encounter the historical and religious figure on television and in stories, he was all ears and eyes. The myth of Christ began to coalesce, and Jesus now forms the core of Proof Number Four.My son was spinning his Four Proofs of Heaven for months before he finally got around to asking me if I believed in Heaven. Actually, I had to ask him to ask me. Our conversation went something like this:"Why don't you ask me if I believe in Heaven?" He paused, then asked me if I believed in Heaven. "I don't, actually," I replied, then spun my customary speech about the Mystery and Majesty of Evolution, the potential spirituality found thereof, and then I finished off with the caveat that: "My mind is, of course, open."Still, he's been troubled ever since.He approached his mother the other day and said: "You know what?""What," she replied."That man you're married to doesn't believe in heaven."My wife, who does believe in Heaven, is a fitting confidante for such discussions. My son, for his part, referred to me as "that man you're married to" he was so discomfited by my anti-Heaven stance.I thought I was doing the right thing: it seems that everyone corroborates this concept of Heaven, whether they themselves believe or not. So in that moment of inspiration, I decided to be a alternative voice and frankly deny the existence of Heaven.Now I wonder if I screwed up.If my son needs the concept of Heaven right now, perhaps it's my job to support him. After all, I certainly suspend some pretty ridiculous disbeliefs. For example, as far as he knows, I belong to the cult of Santa Claus.Do you sense an inconsistency? I happily discuss Santa's North Pole environs, as well as the metaphysics of his one-night, global run. I take dictation for my son's missives to the Tooth Fairy, then I forge her signature in reply. I slip quarters under his pillow as I take his teeth away.But, Heaven, it seems, doesn't fall under my purview of accepted deceptions. Nope, now he's dead sure I'm a card-carrying infidel when it comes to Heaven, but a blithering devotee to Santa, the Tooth Fairy and even the Easter Bunny.Coming soon: his Four Proofs of Adult Inconsistency. One thing is clear: I ignored an important child-rearing maxim: answer your child's question with a question. Questions invite creativity -- the creativity, for example, to forge his own, personal take on the afterlife.I admit, this whole situation has rather discombobulated me. So if you happen upon a guy who seems to be mumbling prayers to the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny, chances are, it's me. Just give me a pat on the back, and move on.