When the topic of God came up over dinner at the Avenue Grill on Forty-First near Arbutus, my 10-year-old sought to set my four-year-old straight.
My four-year-old corrected him. “There is a God. God is everywhere," he said, "and He can hear what you’re saying right now.”
They argued so vehemently I couldn't even manage to get their attention to throw in my usual," If God exists, then SHE is great."
I noticed that their discussion was just as sophisticated as that which takes place between fanatics everywhere.
“There IS a God.”
“There ISN'T a God.”
“THERE IS A GOD.”
This could only lead to pinching, kicking and punching or lobbing bombs from catapults. They badly wanted to trade blows now, but the ferocity of my warning gaze steadied them.
In case you're not a parent, that was a joke.
The ferocity of my gaze didn't steady them.
It incited them.
My four-year-old kept insisting louder and louder over the righteousness of his personal philosophy. He pounded his fist and shouted, "Listen to me!"
This caused a general escalation of hostilities.
“Guys we’re in a restaurant,” I reminded them, certain that someone in a managerial position was already plotting the terms on which we three would be asked to withdraw to far away territories.
The couple at the next table wore hearing aids. They must have been turned off, because they continued sipping their wine and staring into the space just over each other's right shoulder and smiling innocently, as if God's very existence weren't in question.
"Listen to me!" my more mature son, shouted back.
“No,” the younger one thundered, turning purple in the face. “THERE IS.”
When you can see a child's gums as he speaks, you know there's going to be trouble.
“Hey, guys," I said, "people have been arguing about this since the beginning of time. And fighting about it."
I gave my ten-year-old a pointed look. He knows how I feel about countries going to war and slaughtering thousands in order to acquire wealth and power under the guise of fighting over philosophical differences.
But he didn't care about that. What he cared about was this:
If he participated in one more fight with his brother, he was going to lose his computer game privileges for the week-end.
He was going to be banned from playing Runescape, where he would be able to kill and acquire wealth and power in virtual reality, without even having to pretend like he was fighting over philosophical differences.
“Well, there isn’t a god,” he muttered under his breath, but before the full blow of this reached my younger son, thank God, if there is a God, the food arrived. At the sight of it, the boys gave up the fight.
They negotiated for each other's fries. They gobbled down their burgers. They praised the meal. After this detente, they shared a piece cheesecake. The cheesecake put them in a genuinely good mood.
Now that they were nourished, the religious questions of the ages lost their ability to enrage and divide. It just didn't matter whether there was a God, or there wasn't a God, when you could get such a great piece of cheesecake. Fully fed, they both felt large enough to indulge their sibling's pathetic fantasy that he knew the score.