Wednesday 15 October 2014

Towards a fiercer liberalism

There are sharks who live below the line at the Guardian.  It is a frightening place.  I know this.

I wrote a comment article for the Guardian yesterday about the sign at Beddau RFC urging over-enthusiastic parents to calm down a little.  I found myself defending serious parents against the idea that somehow nothing really matters.

In the circumstances, I escaped pretty much unscathed - but then it would have been very silly of me to read absolutely all the comments.

What does seem to have irritated people was this section:

"It’s tough out there. So tough that I’m not planning to compete by the usual rules. But I’m aware that I do have to buck up a bit. I’m tired of the old maxims: letting children decide on religion or politics or careers when they are older. I’m finished with the I-don’t-want-to-foist-my-ideas-on-them style of parenting.

The truth is, I do want to foist my ideas on them. In fact, I’m wondering whether my failure to do so risks letting them grow up like Bertrand Russell, of whom it was said that he had lived with an open mind for so long that he couldn’t get the damn thing shut.

The psychologist James Hillman suggested that failing to give your children a steer may not give them anything to react against, and they may need that to find their own way. I insist that my children go to church – I even manage to get them to do so occasionally. I insist that they should also be Liberal Democrats. This policy is working: my 10-year-old realises that he can irritate me by praising the Labour party."

Now you can see why this might have irritated the more sanctimonious atheists, but I also seem to have annoyed people I very much respect.  It has forced me to think about this a little.

I suppose it is inevitable that I might have given the impression that I am enforcing these beliefs with a rigid disciplinarian approach.  Of course I'm not.  And just because I am partisan, that doesn't seem to me to absolve me from the duty of explaining to my children what all the different sides of these political and religious issues are - but also explaining to them, because they ask, what I think and why.

I'm aware that I have a duty to do this in an open-minded way, and not to disparage the motives of people who think differently.

But I don't want to leave my children rootless.  I don't believe political or religious convictions are consumer choices, something you put off - like dating - until you are old enough to see the smorgasbord of choice.  I don't want them growing up without structure, without convictions, without depth.

No, I won't ban them from the house when they disagree with me - as they inevitably do - but if liberalism means that everything is relative, and there is no content, no culture to grapple with, then I want none of it.

Fortunately, Liberalism is not the same as post-modernism.  It isn't the same as moral relativism.  Nor is it the same as the apparently contradictory post-modern ideas that nobody can understand anyone else's culture but nonetheless, we enlightened ones must shun content, culture and roots altogether.

I'm not one of those people who believe that somehow it is possible for me to convert to a range of different global faiths without years of study, because these are cultures with extraordinarily deep and complex ways of looking at the world.

I believe that the post-moderns are wrong on both counts.  People need cultural roots, but they can transcend them.  We are not consumers, looking for the best deal from our political and religious convictions.

As a parent, I want to show - if at all possible by example (difficult at the best of times) - that I can be understanding about people's point of view but to have convictions, live by them, and expect my children to as well.  There may come a time when they see things differently for themselves, and then I will not have a meltdown - but until then, I don't believe they should be keeping their powder dry for religion or politics or morality.

I may not always keep to it.  But that seems to me to be a genuine Liberalism, and a fiercer version than wishy-washy post-modernism.

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