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There’s plenty of nonsensical meme creation on the Internet (just so you know). One of my least favorites is what I’ll call the Fictional Narrative Cartoon (FNC, or ‘Fink’). Follow these steps to write a Fink of your own:

    1. Select a life stance you have never held or attempted to understand.

    2. Achieve a Vulcan mind-meld with people of that perspective. When that fails, simply pick a set of unflattering assumptions off the top of your head about what the world “must” look like from that perspective.

    3. Weave a fictional monologue or dialogue to describe the world through the eyes of this worldview. Include acts of puppy smooshing for maximum effect.

    4. Post!

    I’ve seen atheists do this to religious folks and vice versa. It tends not to be a true Fink if the person once shared the worldview — the atheist who was once a genuine theist, or the theist who was once a genuine atheist. In those cases, the risk of nonfiction sneaking in is too great. The true Fictional Narrative Cartoon must spring entirely from willful ignorance.

    My Google alert for “atheist parents” brings Christian FNCs about nonreligious parenting into my inbox once in a while. The gods of cyber-serendipity smiled on me yesterday, delivering a Fink about an atheist dad talking to his child about death just days after I had posted a nonfiction narrative of the same thing.

    The blogger, a Christian father of seven, begins by describing his approach as a Christian parent talking to his children about death:

    Have you ever had a surprise party thrown in your honor? You walk through the door and the lights come on and the horns blow, close friends cheer as ribbons and balloons are thrown into the air? Have you ever watched as an athlete’s name is announced and he runs from the dressing room tunnel and onto the field as 60 or 70 thousand people cheer his arrival?…When my kids ask about death, these are some of the analogies that I use…

    What a difference it must be for atheist parents, especially for those who want to be honest with their child.

    He’s right — it is certainly different. And yes, it’s a much greater challenge than contemplating death as a stadium full of angels doing the Wave. Unfortunately he doesn’t stop with what he knows, but begins to construct a Fink:

    “Dad [says the child of the atheist], what happens when we die?”

    “Well, nothing really. We come from nothing and we go to nothing. Either your mom and I or someone else will put you into the ground and cover you with dirt and the person that we knew as YOU will just totally and completely cease to exist.”

    “But how can I just come to an end? What if I only live until I’m five years old? I won’t get to do anything important.”

    “My dear boy. Five years or five hundred years, it doesn’t really matter because none of it counts, not ultimately anyhow. Humans are part of a dying species in a dying universe. You’re an accident little buddy. An absolute accident to which we gave a name. Don’t get me wrong. We love you, and perhaps some day you can even manipulate some other people to love you too. But apart from that you’re pretty much on your own.”

    “But what are we here for? Is there any meaning or purpose to all this?”

    “Use your brain son. How can there be meaning and purpose to something that’s an accident?…Reality is, you come from nothing and you’re headed to nothing, just emptiness, a void. That’s all there is son. That’s not a bad thing son. It just is. The fact is, our life has no meaning, no context and absolutely no purpose save the purpose that you pretend to give it. Pretty cool huh?”

    “But daddy, shouldn’t I at least try to be a good person?”

    “Oh my precious little munchkin. Good and bad are just subjective words that some people use to describe things that they like or don’t like…All I know is, live good, live bad, live for yourself, live for others, none of it matters because the end of the good and the end of the bad, the end of people, pigs and insects is exactly the same, we rot away and become a different form of matter. Now, why don’t you run along. I’ve got some useless and pointless things to do.”

    “But dad, that’s absurd! How do you expect me to be happy if life has no meaning, context or purpose” If that’s the way things are, why did you make me in the fist place?”

    “Well, sweetpea, now you’re starting to ask what’s beginning to feel like a lot of questions. First of all, I couldn’t not make you. My genes compel me to reproduce. I squirt my semen here and there and everywhere…”

    You get the idea.

    I was once at a family gathering where the subject turned to gays and lesbians. I chimed in that homosexual sex is disgusting. They all nodded, mildly surprised.

    “You know something else that’s disgusting?” I added. “Heterosexual sex.” Reduce the sexual act to the physical slapping of flesh and it doesn’t matter who is involved — it’s disgusting. Gay rights opponents recoil at the idea of gay sex because they strip it of the emotional component that transforms their own rutting into something entirely else.

    Reducing a nonreligious parent’s description of death to the slapping of dirt on a coffin achieves the same brand of reductionist nonsense. The Fink starts and stays with sterile facts, never granting the atheist parent the human faculties of compassion or love except as a laugh line. I do think we die, for real, and that love and understanding can help us live with this difficult fact quite beautifully and well — even without invoking balloons and confetti.

    The best thing about the growing nonreligious parenting movement is that we no longer need be content with Finks about nonreligious parenting. We’re living the nonfiction versions. Which points to the most important difference between this blogger’s take on the atheist parent-child conversation and mine.

    Mine actually happened.

    [Link to the fictional conversation]
    [Link to the nonfictional conversation]

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.