Some atheists are claiming that a 12-year-old's suicide is proof that teaching religion to kids can be both damaging and deadly.
The debate surrounds Maria Kislo, who was recently found hanged in her bedroom in Leszno, Poland. While her mother says the young girl showed no signs of depression before her death, Maria left a note for her family saying that she missed her deceased father and wanted to be with him in heaven, the U.K. Mirror reported.
The short letter read, "Dear Mum. Please don't be sad. I just miss daddy so much, I want to see him again."
Maria's father, Arek, died unexpectedly in 2009 after suffering a heart attack. Now her mother, Monika, is grieving another loss.
"I had no idea she missed her father so much, she never really spoke about it," Monika Kislo told the Mirror.
It didn't take long for the tragic incident to lead some atheists to boldly proclaim that Maria's death is proof that belief in God and the afterlife can be damaging to children.
On the blog Friendly Atheist, Terry Firma wrote that the girl's suicide is confirmation that "the idea of heaven can be both comforting and toxic — make that deadly — at the same time."
"If Maria’s head hadn’t been filled with nonsensical ideas about heaven, where it’s all about the posthumous family reunions, she’d probably be alive today," Firma wrote. "Her death is the somewhat prettier equivalent of the Islamic suicide bombers who think they’ll go on to great rewards in the hereafter."
The blogger concluded that "religion kills."
Another writer, Michael Stone, penned a piece in the Examiner about the girl's death in which he said faith can do "irreparable damage."
"A great man once said 'Religion poisons everything.' The tragic and heartbreaking story of Maria Kislo only confirms such sentiment," Stone wrote. "For one so young to throw their life away in some misguided hope for an afterlife is deeply disturbing, and a potent reminder of the irreparable damage caused by religious superstition."
The Freethinker blog highlighted some recent thoughts published by Susan K. Perry, a psychologist who also believes that teaching children about heaven has some major pitfalls.
Kerry, herself an atheist, had written about this very subject just days before Maria's death. She took particular aim at "Heaven for Kids," a book by Randy Alcorn that "explores Biblical answers to the questions kids often have about heaven."
Perry believes that the book is problematic and poses dangers to children. She wrote in part:
What’s abusive about telling children about the wonders of their next life in heaven? Alcorn based this book on his bestselling book for adults, which I haven’t read, so I won’t label that one “adult-abuse.” But anytime a group extols the extraordinary rewards of death and what comes after, you’re skimming the edges of being a death cult. That’s how terrorists happen, if the timing and culture align a certain way.
I know. Strong words. But Alcorn makes heaven sound very cool to kids, and tries to answer all possible questions a child might ask (rather pathetically, in my opinion). He answers questions I myself have wondered about, in the sense of wondering how Christians conceive of the afterlife they’re counting on.
Little is known about Maria's religious education or other circumstances she was facing, so it's not possible to state definitely either way what role faith played in her decision to take her life. Still, that hasn't stopped some from using tragedy to chime in about the harm they say religion does.
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