Kids Ask The Best Philosophical Questions
I remember when I began reading philosophy—this would have been my freshman year of high school, or thereabouts—that in one of the books, though I can’t remember the name, I at least remember the author saying philosophy is simply asking the questions of children and taking them very seriously. He said it more eloquently than that, of course. I’m paraphrasing, in my usual Pat Flynn kind of way. But that’s what it all comes down to. And now, having three of my own, I can tell you, it’s true. Kids ask the best philosophical questions.
Off the top of my head, here’s a few of the philosophical inquiries Roan’s proposed recently around the dinner table: Who are you? Why did God create bad guys? What’s seven? And so on along those lines. I try to answer these questions the best I can. I think it’s important to take your children seriously, even if they don’t have the attention span to hear your entire answer. Roan’s a good sport though. He pays attention. And often, he absorbs something rather significant. But even when he doesn’t, he goes away satisfied with having had an answer.
What I like about kids is they press the why questions. They care about how to, sure, but mostly they want to know why—why this, why that. And for me, that’s what separates a lot of philosophy and science. Science can tell us how things operates (it can tell us that protons are attracted to electrons), but philosophy wants to know why. And to me, that’s when things get most interesting. Apparently, kids think the same way. Maybe I just never grew up. Certainly my television habits would suggest as much.
So, how do I answer these questions? It’s tough. Because on one hand, I hardly know the answers myself. And when I do, they’re typically complicated. But let’s take the example of why God created bad guys, which is easier than some of the other ones. I guess I would try to say something about freewill, that God didn’t create bad guys, per se, but he did give people the power to make decisions for themselves, so that we could all come to know and love God, freely. In doing so, however, he gave people the option to be bad: To steal things and shoot people and bring bombs into subway stations. God doesn’t like that, of course, but God can only do what’s logically possible–that’s what omnipotent means. And it wouldn’t be logically possible to have people come to love you freely, but also not give them the choice to choose themselves—or evil—instead. I guess that’s how I’d start to phrase it. (Honestly, I’d let Christine take that one; she’s writing a little eBook on How to Talk with Your Kids About God.)
I’m a spiritual person. But I’m spiritual because of philosophy. I wasn’t one of those people who was born with a deep, intuitive sense of being one with everything, including meatloaf. Mostly I felt detached and alone. Meatloaf wasn’t anything metaphysical to me. It just tasted good. So, it was reason that brought me to faith—a journey I’ve outlined elsewhere many times. I’m pretty good at the analytical side and working on getting better at the feelings side. That said, a lot of my philosophy is rooted in spirituality. I think a theistic framework makes more sense of the world than an atheistic one. I’m not going to argue that now, I’m just highlighting it to make sense of why many of my answers to questions of why will ultimately, in some form or another, return to God—but never, I would hope, in an ignorant “Well, that’s just the way God made it” kind of way, but one that really tries to explain and make sense of things. I think kids deserve that. Because if they’re going to take the time to ask such great philosophical questions, I think the least we can do is rise to the challenge and offer a rigorous answer.