In which I provoke a domestic disagreement about magic
I do my best to be honest and straightforward with my boys, and also to respect their ability to answer question for themselves. In religion, as in most things, it’s more important to me that they think, evaluate the evidence and reach their own considered conclusions than that they reach the same answer as me.
So when my elder son wanted to know what a miracle was, I tried to give him a fair and balanced explanation that a six-year-old would be able to understand. A brief run through some basic details, claims and understandings wasn’t too bad, but when he asked how it worked, I briefly hesitated and then said it was a bit like magic.
This was a mistake.
I know that calling such things magic is often considered pejorative and even insulting, so I generally try to avoid the word in this context unless I have a very good reason for using it. But I couldn’t think of a better explanation that was appropriate for his age and attention span. It might upset some, but in the context, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable description.
The problem is that he knows magic isn’t real.
We told him that, but only when he’d more or less discovered it for himself. He got a magic wand for Christmas, and was upset that it didn’t work because he couldn’t turn his little brother into a frog. Simply telling him that it doesn’t work like that and there’s no such thing as real magic isn’t exactly the Socratic method, but Socrates was never woken up at 6am on Christmas morning.
I’ve mentioned before that he’s obsessed with differentiating between what’s real and what isn’t, and now that he has this piece of information stored in his brain, it has the status of holy writ: Magic Is Not Real. I should probably have remembered this and watched my step, but I think I just screwed up.
Although strangely, he didn’t retort with his new favourite fact about the non-reality of magic, he just accepted what I said and wandered off to play with some Lego. It was my wife who later pointed out what I’d done, and mildly objected to her beliefs being associated with something permanently filed as Not Real.
She was right, of course – if I’d been thinking clearly, or if I’d had more time to consider my response, I wouldn’t have used those words. But I’m still not sure what I should have said instead.
I think Arthur C. Clarke’s dictum that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” offers some justification for my words, but let’s say the “M” word is totally out of the question – leaving aside “some people think” formulations which more or less dodge the question, is there any way of explaining the supernatural in simple, meaningful terms that respect both those beliefs and my doubts?
I’m not sure if there is, which is interesting in itself, but I’d be interested in any suggestions.