“Is my dead dog in heaven?
The question showed up on a list of seven difficult questions posed to the list’s author by her children, and the answer is instructive about the fate of postmodern views of religion when they encounter reality. The author explains:
We do not subscribe to a specific religion in our house, but we have always believed in leaving room for our kids to find their own paths to God—or not. Our answers to God-related questions have always started with, “Many people believe…”
We figure whatever they grow up believing, as long as it doesn’t harm others, will be fine with us. And above all, we don’t want them thinking that any other people’s beliefs are wrong.
That seems to be the standard line for postmodern parents when religious questions come up, and I suppose it’s fair enough from that perspective. What’s curious, however, is how she answers the original question. The author goes on to explain that “If I’m being honest, my heart is committed to the fluffy-clouds, no-pain, no-sadness version of the afterlife. I imagine my Grandma Lu opening her arms to the soul of my 23 year-old nephew, who passed away three years ago. I imagine them both free of any sort of pain.” This too is standard fare for the spiritual but not religious—fluffy ideas that soothe the wounds we receive when we encounter the bleak reality of death. She continues to describe what her imagination shows her about other loved ones as well as her dog, and on that basis she tells her child, “Yes. I think so.”
It’s quite curious that she doesn’t give her child a list of the various things many people believe on the subject, as she ordinarily does. The other conspicuous absence is the principle that she had indicated was “above all:” that they never think any other beliefs are wrong. Instead, it’s a fairly clear “yes.” Sure, “I think so” is added as a postscript, but that’s an “I think so” from the greatest and most trustworthy authority any 5-year-old knows. Her knowingly make-believe narrative is delivered as more-or-less definitive.
Why the disconnect between postmodern ideals and the concreteness of the answer? I think it’s because even a 5-year-old can recognize the difference between true hope and false hope. If a parent were to answer her child with the bare observation that “some people believe your dog is in heaven,” nary a child would be satisfied. The game would also be up if she were to answer, “Yes, I think so. But never think anyone is wrong if they say your dog has ceased to exist and is simply rotting in the ground.” Even a child recognizes that both halves of a contradiction can’t be true. Even a child knows what it means if he must not think that a fact is wrong.
If even a 5-year-old could recognize the false hope in such answers about a dead pet, then what can these answers offer adults when applied to dead loved ones? If we want to know anything about the afterlife, our best resource is not our imagination; it’s the Man who actually died and actually came back to life a few days later.