‘Ignorance is arrogance,’ I say tartly as George dodges out of the kitchen managing, yet again, to overlook any table clearing or washing up, ‘and arrogance is ignorance.’
‘But humility,’ George looks smugly back at me, ‘is…’
But let’s hold it there a second. Honestly, our family doesn’t just talk in platitudes, but what happened to children not answering back? I have singularly failed to inspire the obedient dread that my father filled me with. Why hadn’t he told me what hard work it was creating that unforgettable family atmosphere of spite, fear and loathing?
Really, George is arrogant enough already, why are we scrimping to send the boy to an expensive posh school where he’s just encouraged to be unbearable? They all walk around like they’re the big swinging dick and, considering the frightening number of A*s the boys have to their names, their trousers are very full indeed.
The family gets stuck teaching the less alluring qualities, a little humbleness, thoughtfulness and empathy.
Accordingly, just that morning, I’d conscripted George to help fill the Christmas shoebox for Operation Christmas Child; an annual guilt avoidance scheme for fat westerners to send shoeboxes full of goodies to thin African children.
As we watched the heart-warming video on their website – weepy music with wide eyed children – I spotted, with each box delivered, there’s included, a full-colour child-friendly pamphlet bringing the good news about Jesus.
‘Christ!’ I exclaimed with unwitting irony. ‘They’re using us! We buy a nice present for someone so they might have some faith in humanity, and it’s being hijacked as a proof of God’s love. It’s not God’s love. It’s my guilt!’
‘No, it’s a Christmas present,’ George reminded me, ‘and Christmas is Christian.’ He’s right and so I felt doubly guilty. Child of the Band-Aid era I tend to think of Christmas as about “giving”; not a birthday celebration.
‘Maybe,’ I persisted, ‘but that doesn’t stop me feeling I’m being co-opted like a pusher; what with religion being an opiate.’ I was hoping to out-gun George by quoting beyond his 16-year-old reference frame. Unfortunately his snotty school had got there first.
‘Marx,’ he informed me earnestly, ‘meant religion may have been used to pacify the revolutionary potential of the peasantry. But the last hundred years have proved different. Now religion’s not an opiate, it’s like cocaine: an aggressor, a tinderbox, a firestarter.’
My jaw dropped. The fact that my little boy was suddenly capable of intellectual argument was electrifying; his understanding of the effects of class A drugs –terrifying.
‘But it can still teach right from wrong.’ he continued placing the top carefully on the shoe box.
‘You don’t need God to keep you moral.’ I countered, but suddenly I wasn’t so sure. I come from a long line of fearsome fathers who were the objectification of their children’s moral conscience. You didn’t fear fire and brimstone, you feared the bizarre and often painful punishments your dad would cook up. And if that caused a tragic insurmountable distance between father and son? Well that’s the price of love.
But now I’m thinking. Is atheism so important? If my kids grew up fearing God not me, maybe we could be closer. So what if they think the earth’s only a few thousand years old or that gays will have an after-life of unimaginable torture? We could all just fear together.
Richard Dawkins calls children’s religious education ‘child abuse’. But I’ it’s expediency.
My generation of revisionist middle-class parents have done our jobs too well, we’ve failed to strike fear into the hearts of our children. They’ve had no Nazis or Daleks. They’re blind to the poverty that silently surrounds us. George and his ever protected Range Rovered school chums have no fear. Should they learn it? Should they discover humility?
According to the birthday boy it was supposed to be the meek who inherited the earth. To Marx this was promising fantastic afterlife for obedience to your shackles in the here and now.
But look at the extraordinary success of the Camerons and Osbornes, of the public school educated bankers and elites. They’re there through unwavering, ignorant, arrogance, the assumption that privilege is their right.
There I was all ready to knock all the conceited self-importance out of George when I realised that that master of the universe attitude is probably just what we’re paying that fancy school to instil because it’s not the meek and the peace makers who are blessed. It’s the big swinging dicks. The ones who couldn’t care less for the poor, they’re the ones who get ahead. They’re the ones who’ll be gambling a pile in the city and retiring early. All I’ve got to do is make sure George retains a sliver of conscience when my pension needs topping up.
So today George looks smugly back at me, ‘But humility is futility.’ He smiles. ‘You told me that.’
I’m not proud. But my pension options are looking a whole lot better.