February 4, 2018
In my salad days it was accepted wisdom that children were not given much theological attention. Because they could not make ‘complex’ decisions about life and death and all those things that are the stuff of Christian life, they could not become saints. But they have come to be, ironically indeed, the very best of instructors in the reality of martyrdom.
In the fifty years since then, children have become more and more a battlefield on which the struggles of our society are waged. Whose? How many? When? Why? Why not? Where? For whom? By whom? At what cost? We’ve dealt with this new situation a bit over the last few weeks.
It seems safe to say now that, even if children are not of great theological interest in themselves, they are a powerfully clarifying lens through which to read our culture’s conscience – and even our own. Even this superficial study reveals the crass commercialization of children and the pervasive consumerism of the more ‘grown-up’ elements of our world.
When Jesus admonished that his followers must become like little children in order to enter into the Kingdom of God, he said a real mouthful. He challenged his followers to stand aside from the consumerist and commercial mentality and to let themselves be judged as if they were things to buy or to own; to let themselves be deemed as worthless, amusing, valuable, bothersome, hostile or hateful, not on their own merits, but by standards that, in principle, reject love as the only meaningful characteristic of human life and human life together.
Let me say that in short sentences. Our current cultural position on children is characterized by consumerism. Thus, children have become victims of cost analysis and/or trophies in the game of conspicuous consumption. Their sorry plight is shared, as we see in editorial after blog after letter to the editor by anyone or any class who seem to threaten the stranglehold that the ‘haves’ have on whatever they are afraid to lose. And their humanity is so far betrayed that everyone who can reach up and ‘slap his nickel on the bar’ should be able to have one. And it is quickly becoming a commonplace in American courts and political campaigns that no legislation should be allowed that forces people to travel, even across town, to get rid of a
child. If we Christians are to be like little children, we are in great danger, indeed. If we are to assert the full human dignity of children and those who are as powerless as children, we will soon be designated as enemies of all that is ‘the American Dream’.
When I was in my salad days, there was a great optimism that the age ‘of the two Johns’ – John Kennedy and John XXIII – was about to usher in a great ‘Catholic Age’ the like of which had not been seen since the fifteenth century. I do not wish to sound like an embittered old hippie (I never was such), but since then, that optimism has become less and less realistic. Its replacement is a paranoid militancy. Of these alternatives we will have more to day in days to come.
Really and truly and childishly yours,