I was at a party a week ago (or so) and found myself in a rather impassioned argument with somebody, which – as I am normally very non-confrontational, left me a little bit shaken. I had, of course, precipitated the whole thing but to suggest that I was the root and cause of the argument itself would be to ignore her role in the affair. It is normally my way to sue for reconciliation after such an event, rare as they are, but I have decided this time to stick to my guns.
The statement that I had made, uttered in the euphoric state that generally follows several beers in a relaxed and social environment, had offended her to the core. I acknowledge that it was a harsh statement, although the sentiment that I expressed in due course (after clarifying my statement somewhat) was not harsh in the slightest.
I had simply noted that I am inclined to agree with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens: religion constitutes child abuse. That is a most inflammatory thing to say, and I said it because until then she was humoured by my wild pontifications, and the topic had somehow arisen. Little did I know that she is a religious Catholic.
Retracting so strong a statement is virtually impossible, and the difficulty was compounded by the basic fact that, at a fundamental level, I did not want to. What is it they say about discussing religion at parties? I cannot remember. In any case, what I went on to say, in an attempt to (partially) modify my initial sentiment, was that children are designed to believe absolutely anything that an adult tells them. That is obvious: were an infant to instinctively distrust their parents, they would only rarely survive long enough to become parents themselves. If a parent is to teach the children nonsense, but actually believe it themselves, then I have little problem with the situation. I realise Dawkins and Hitchens find such a scenario morally repugnant, but… well, there is much that is repugnant about Dawkins and Hitchens as well.
No, my gripe is with the following scenario: parents who deliberately teach their children things that they, themselves know to be patent nonsense – simply because the child looks cute when he or she is fooled. Filling an infant’s head with rubbish about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny (as well as non-religious drivel like the Tooth Fairy) is a form of child abuse. Is that really so offensive?
Apparantly so, although I can also allow for the fact that she had consumed several beers as well. Passionately, she informed me that she grew up with Santa Claus, would not trade her youth of lies and abuse (my words, not hers) for any other, accused me of depriving children of their imagination, and went on to suggest that such things must exist within Judaism too.
Actually… no, they do not. There are some particularly ignorant people who believe that the spirit of Elijah traipses into their homes on Pesakh to consume wine, although the educated are aware of the origins of that tradition and do not fill their children’s heads with such absurd balderdash. And I think that imagination is a wonderful thing, and that children should be encouraged to make all sorts of pretend games, and to read widely all manner of fantastic literature. As a fan of both The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion (not to mention the Hebrew Bible, and so forth), I would not have it any other way.
Would I tell my children that there really are Hobbits and Orcs? Or that the miracle stories of Genesis are real? Of course not: I do not believe that they are. So, why would I tell them about fat men climbing down chimneys, or ghosts drinking wine? She must be mad.