Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Into the Heart of a Child

Last week, Vox Day had a thoughtful post on how he came to his Christian faith. The whole thing is worth a read, this part in particular caught my attention:

Regarding evil, I simply mean behavior that is described as evil or wickedness in the Bible as well as the influences, autonomous or otherwise, that encourage that behavior. I see it in the world and I see it in myself. I have seen it in the transparent lies of an almost-innocent child, in the irrational fury of a hysterical woman, in the maddened glee of a violent man, and throughout the blood-soaked pages of history. I have seen it in the rich and the poor, in the brilliant and the dim, and in the beautiful and the ugly. Once, like many an arrogant non-believer before me, I thought I could construct my own valid moral code and live by it. And, like everyone but the nihilists, I failed. Not spectacularly, but worse, ludicrously and unnecessarily.

While being a parent doesn't automatically lead to belief in God and while I'm sure that atheists love their children too, for many people having children draws them closer to (or maybe back to) their faith and God. Some of this is no doubt due to bearing firsthand witness to the miracle of life. Some could also attributed to a desire to be better person for their children to model. I believe a good deal of the renewed interest is the result of what they see play out in the hearts and minds of their children.

Atheists like to say that children are brainwashed to believe in God. Their parents and churches begin the indoctrination at an early age and it's only later in life that some truly exceptionally individuals (like themselves) are able to escape from this conditioning and recognize the "truth." I think the opposite is true. Children seem to have an innate sense of God. It isn't something their parents or churches instill, it's just there. I believe that we're all born "knowing" God and it's only through years of "learning" that some lose sight of the simple truth.

It's somewhat ironic that atheists dismiss stories of God as nothing more than "fairy tales." As C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton have explained, the childlike sense of wonder and belief that children bring to fairy tales is a necessary component of the faith that adults have in God. We spend our lives running away from the God we know in our hearts--and knew as children--because of what we think we know in the world.

But along with this wonderful and pure sense of God that we see in our children, parents also see something darker. It isn't something that children are taught or conditioned to display. It's not natural behavior driven by their "selfish" genes. It's not a part of their development or adaptation to environment. The first time you witness it in your own children, you're startled and a little disturbed. But as much as you might not like what you see or as hard as you try to not admit it, you know what it is: evil.

Sure, it's not the big "E" evil such as murder, genocide, or the Subway Five-Dollar-Footlong jingle, but it's evil nonetheless. Again, this isn't something learned or modeled. It's just there (especially in second born children, a high percentage of whom actually carry the evil gene itself). When you see the fallen nature of man play out in your own living room day after day, it's a bit easier to understand its significance and appreciate its existence.

Further strengthening parents' belief in God is the sense of guilt that seems to inherent in children. Again, this is not guilt that's driven into the child's mushy little brain by their parents or their church. It's guilt that's already there. Parents see this sense of guilt on the face of very young children. The child very well may not fully understand why, but they know they did something wrong and they feel shame because of it. As Mary Eberstadt points out in The Loser Letters, none of the leading brights of atheism have satisfactorily explained why humans should experience shame and guilt.

In Mark 10:15 Jesus advised us that: "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." The experience of raising children is often a way that parents recognize how true that is.