I was brought up Catholic by an Irish Catholic mother (Methodist father who, religiously, didn't count). Having broken with the Church by the age of 21 (do I need to enumerate the reasons for you?), I brought up my three children in a non-religious way, which I regret now to a certain extent. They have no background knowledge of the Judaeo-Christian culture in which, like it or not, they are immersed.
And of course, being totally uneducated in, say, Catholic ways, rituals, and history, they have been unable to pass along any such knowledge to their own children. Thus leaving me with five grandchildren who don't have a clue.
This was brought home to me while I was reading aloud to G (9) the start of Volume 2 of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials (the ultimate anti-Church and even anti-God rant, presented as the most seductive of adventure stories). In this chapter we are at a meeting of high-up Church members, including a Cardinal.
Now, one of the tropes of the book is that all humans have a daemon, an animal (always of the opposite sex) who completes the person. Pre-puberty, the daemons are capable of changing rapidly from, for example, butterfly to weasel to goldfinch to wildcat. At puberty, when the child's personality has begun to stabilize, so does the daemon, settling into a form that reflects some dominant characteristic of the human. (The villain of the trilogy, Mrs. Coulter, is a beautiful but evil woman whose daemon is a golden monkey. The male protagonist's daemon is a snow leopard.)
So there they are around the table, these prelates and clerics and Mrs. Coulter, and they are discussing whether or not to continue torturing the witch they have captured (I believe I told you the book is anti-Church; and this is only the second of the three volumes).
G is listening intently even as she devotes her creative energies to making tiny figures with polymer clay. As the Cardinal joins the conversation she gets confused. Why is he called a cardinal? I say, it's the name for a high-ranking churchman, just below the pope.
She listens some more and it's clear she's still confused. Why is he called a cardinal?
Finally she's able to articulate the problem: every time I say "Cardinal" she thinks it is someone's daemon. I show her the capital C for this one (actually, we haven't yet had a cardinal as a character's daemon, though we've had a goose, an owl, and a raven, among the birds).
G gets it, sort of, but she still thinks it's a very weird title for a high-ranking cleric. And I become aware of how abysmally ignorant she is of Church matters. The knowledge I take for granted, having imbibed it almost literally with my mother's milk, is completely absent from her education.
This is a good reminder of how separate we all are. Each of us, on some level, thinks that we all share a common background—with minor variations, of course, but still. And there's not an iota of truth to this assumption.
My five grandchildren not only are ignorant of what a capital-C Cardinal might be, but they don't even know they don't know, and if they did know, they wouldn't care. It's a new world. Theirs.
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