Most of the deep philosophical discussions I have with my daughter occur when she’s in the backseat while I’m driving. Yesterday was one of those times.
“How is God different from us?” she asked me as we waited at a traffic light.
“You and I are finite,” I said. “We have a beginning and an end. God, on the other hand, is infinite. He has no beginning or end.”
“How can he not have a beginning? He had to start somewhere.”
“Good question, dear,” I said. “What do you think?”
“I think there was nothing,” Natalie said. “I mean nothing. No black, no white. No colors. No people. Then all of a sudden, bam, God appeared, and he said, ‘I’m gonna create stuff to make earth more interesting.’”
“Nothing is also part of the infinite,” I said. “So, God is also in nothing.”
“Infinity is everything,” I said. “And all that is finite, like you and me, fits into the infinite as well. So, you and I are also part of infinity.” Nothing like dropping Immanuel Kant on a nine year old.
“Well. I think sometimes God come down and lives with us. Like he doesn’t tell anybody who he is but goes to Starbucks to get coffee.”
“I hope he leaves a tip.”
“No, he gets free coffee.”
“I think God would pay for his coffee.”
“He could just make his own, couldn’t he?”
“I imagine so,” I said. “But you know, the ancient Greeks thought the gods, they had many gods not one, would come down from Mount Olympus, that’s where they lived, and hang out with people. Even having babies with them.”
“What? Babies?” Natalie cried. “They got all smoochy smoochy with people?”
“Yep,” I said. “And the babies would be half human, half god, what they called a demi-god.”
“Very good, Natalie,” I said, mildly surprised. “You’re exactly right. But as time went by, religion changed, and all those little gods started getting replaced by the idea of one God. In the Bible the little gods, with a small g, were called theos, but the big God was called Ho Theos.”
“Where’d all the little gods go?”
“Some religions still have lots of little gods, like Hindus in India. But most of them believe there’s still one big God who created everything.” I refrained from laying the term henotheism on her.
“So, the one God creates everything.”
“That’s the idea,” I said. “Honey, a good way to look at God is to think of him as existence itself, like he’s the reason there is anything at all.”
“But then why did he create stuff?”
“I don’t really know,” I said. “But when I was in school, I learned that even if God didn’t create anything, he’d still be God. He didn’t need to make us to be happy. He was already happy. So, if he made us, he made us out of nothing which was really cool because he didn’t have too – like he gave us a big present.”
“I like presents,” Natalie said.
“When will we get to Grandma and Grandpa’s? I’m hungry.”
“I want a McRib and McDonalds.”
“I don’t know if they have them now.”
After digesting the unavailibiity of the McRib – which I’m not sure is even food – Natalie said, “Daddy, can I ask you something?”
“When people die, do they come back as ghosts?”
“I don’t know.”
“But why don’t we see people after they die?”
“Well,” I said, “One way to look at it is that dead people are so happy in Heaven they don’t want to come back.”
“But if they’re happy,” Natalie said. “Wouldn’t they want to tell us?”
“You’re probably right,” I said. “But there’s another way to look at it. In the Bible, when Jesus came back from the dead and appeared to his friends, he was still flesh and blood – he could be touched, could eat – but he could appear “poof” out of nowhere, walk through walls, all that stuff.”
“Kind of like a superhero.”
“Yes,” I said. “Kind of like that. Now think about Superman. Imagine if there was a real guy who could fly, laser things with his heat vision, throw mountains into the sea, have bullets bounce off him. What do you think regular people would think about that?”
“They’d think that would be really cool.”
“You bet,” I said. “But other people would be very frightened at how different and powerful he was. Think about it. You’re dead and your soul goes up to Heaven. You now know more than anyone else on earth. Perhaps you’re now like an angel who can do all sorts of wonderous things like fly, walk through walls, whatever. But, like Superman, you’d be so different from living people that you’d have very little in common with them. You’d be like a god to them and might scare or confuse them. So perhaps there’s a good reason we don’t see the dead while we’re alive. They know you’re not ready for it.”
“But that’s okay,” Natalie said, “Because everyone would see you in Heaven later and they wouldn’t be scared.”
“I think you’re right.”
“So, Daddy,” Natalie said. “When is the new Miraculous movie coming out?”
My daughter was referring to her favorite cartoon about teenagers who transform into superheroes that are powered by mystical creatures called Miraculouses and fight bad guys in Paris, France. She’s watched every single episode and seen every movie. “I don’t know honey,” I said.
I’d love to be like Ladybug,” she said, referring to the show’s central character. “Kiki! Spots on!”
Smiling, I guided my car towards my parent’s assisted living facility. I know children, and quite a few adults, love the idea of becoming a superhero – to be able to do things no one on earth can do. Truth be told, I sometimes catch myself imagining I’m Superman too. But this idea of a “superhero” is quite old, even older than Hercules. The archetype is found in every culture and throughout literature ancient and modern. Perhaps that’s a “signal of transcendence” too, a dim glimpse of a reality that could await us, when we might all transcend this plane of existence and become something more – spirit that can go where flesh and blood cannot. Maybe, eventually we will all become superheroes, like gods, ourselves. That’d be cool.
Later, as we ate at Mc Donalds and I watched my parents regard Natalie with pure delight, I felt very proud of my little girl. Not even ten and thinking deep thoughts about being, nothingness and infinity. I could take credit and say she’s a chip off the old block, but then again, Natalie’s already become a superhero in my eyes. Who knows what wonders she shall perform?
I can’t wait to see.