Sunday, January 20, 2008

If there's a God, why are there so many wars

Ask your father: Kids’ questions you dread

(The Times, Saturday January 19th 2008)

EMMA COOK gets expert advice on what to do when your child turns to you and asks...

Mummy, if there’s a God, why are there so many wars?

Charlotte, 9

After marvelling at your child’s sparkling intellectual curiosity, you may well feel a bit daunted by a question that, after several centuries, still baffles theologians and philosophers.

So where to start? Remember that not being able to offer your child concrete answers isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s pretty integral to the question. As the philosopher Julian Baggini says: “There really aren’t any clear-cut answers to this one. I might begin by asking the child what they think; using it as a way of starting a discussion. If parents can’t give clear-cut answers, they feel they’re failing their kids, but it’s a great mistake to assume children can’t cope with uncertainties. It’s important that they learn that there aren’t clear-cut answers to everything and not feel paralysed by that.”

Of course, your response will depend ultimately upon your religious values. If you’re an atheist, like the philosopher A. C. Grayling, you’ll have no problem pointing out, as he did to his children: “There are no gods, only people; people are a mix of good and bad, though most people are mostly good. Wars come from the bad things that people think and do, which makes the leaders of their countries quarrel with one another – and sometimes those sorts of grown-up quarrels use guns and bombs, and that’s very destructive and bad.”

If, however, you have a faith and hope your child will, too, you would do better to follow the Catholic broadcaster and author Peter Stanford who patiently explains to his children: “Good religion is what stops us having wars. The golden rule is never do unto others what you wouldn’t want done unto yourself. If we followed that rule, there would be no wars based on religion. I would also say that if you’re looking for one thing throughout history that has encouraged us to put people first, and not ourselves, it’s religion.”

You may also want to point out that God gave people free will – and so it’s their choice to go to war. If your child is smart, he may well ask why God didn’t make people nicer in the first place, so they didn’t want to fight one another. You could counter this by saying that if everyone was capable only of being good, they wouldn’t be so free. The philosophical counsellor Tim Le Bon suggests: “The debate may not end there, but a timely ‘What’s on telly’, may do the trick or you could quote Woody Allen who says: “If there is a God, I don’t think he’s evil. The worst you can say about him is that he’s an underachiever.” For Emma’s previous columns, go to

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